Teenage girls of upper-class Connecticut suburbs usually aren’t the first suspects that come to mind during a murder investigation, but should they be?
“Thoroughbreds” is a mystery thriller about two childhood friends, Lily and Amanda, who have grown up to become privileged teenagers that exist on opposite sides of the personality spectrum. Lily is polished and hardworking, with an internship and boarding school admission, while Amanda has become a social outcast, emotionally unavailable and sharply observant.
As the two grow closer, Amanda learns about Lily’s contempt for her new stepfather Mark, and pushes her to take matters into her own hands. The two hunt down a local hustler and drug dealer and convince him to help them, bringing more people into their world of chaos.
Cory Finley’s directorial debut is darkly funny with an edge of discomfort, which is perfectly fitting for a film about two characters who aren’t conventionally likable doing something that’s conventionally unlikable.
Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance as Lily is initially stiff, and would be considered mediocre if it didn’t fit so well with her character. As the film goes on and Lily’s facade begins to crack, Taylor-Joy comes to life as an actress, which fits with her character’s growth.
Olivia Cooke plays emotionally-removed Amanda in a way that makes her easy to root for, both in empathy and strength, because it gets easier to see that she’s misunderstood as a result of her lack of emotionality, which she has no actual control over.
Anton Yelchin as Tim, a seedy hustler, is a stark reminder of what stellar talent was lost when he died in 2016. Yelchin’s performance is sleazy but empathetic, especially when Tim is roped into the girls’ scheme and is terrified — he’s the most self-aware character in the film.
The film makes some references to how closed-off Lily and Amanda’s privileged world of elite Connecticut is from the world. At one point, Yelchin’s character says “The sawdust smells great here, but you’re still in a hamster cage.”
The contrast between this pristine world and the heavy crimes is brilliant, and makes the content feel a little lighter, until the final scene, when the girls carry out their plan. This scene packs such a punch because it’s so unexpected — Lily, who is proper the entire film, is suddenly covered in blood, and prepared to frame the girl she considers a friend.
The film is sleek, surprising for a new director’s first film, because there doesn’t seem to be much room for improvement. The cleanness of everything makes it seem all the more surreal and unsettling — seemingly perfect people planning what turns out to be a gruesome murder is enough to put anyone on edge.
Everything in the movie exists to put the viewer on edge, from the colors to the music, which is composed almost entirely of abstract drum beats and some ambient noise. Quiet moments are used strategically to heighten the uneasiness for the audience, from tense pauses in conversation throughout to five whole minutes of silence during the film’s climactic scene.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the influence for “Thoroughbreds” could come from — posh residents getting an idea to solve one of their problems in a grim way isn’t exactly an underdone trope. The ending is shocking, but it did not leave a lasting impact (at least twist-wise).
But the ephemeral ending is fitting. In one of the movie’s final scenes, after Amanda has been framed, Lily runs into Tim while going to an interview. She’s airy and aloof, and when asked about a letter Amanda sent her, she says she threw it in the trash. Her attitude toward the action makes it seem like another day in her life.
“Thoroughbreds” is a sharp-witted story about a heavily-tested female friendship and empathy. Hopefully, Finley’s future efforts will continue to be as captivating and engaging as his debut.