The visual style and intriguing story just about compensate for the detached characters and poor dialogue
Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke have both enjoyed sharp rises to stardom in recent years, and here, the two upcoming actors join with writer-director Cory Finley for his debut feature, Thoroughbreds. Whilst the film is certainly pretty to look at, its story and characters feel very bland, making it a mixed viewing experience overall.
We follow Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lilly (Anya Taylor-Joy), two late teens from very wealthy backgrounds living in the rich suburbs of Connecticut who have grown distant in recent years. Through arranged circumstances, the emotionless Amanda begins to spend more time with Lilly and soon realises that her old friend has developed a deep hatred for her intolerable step-dad, Mark (Paul Sparks). After a hypothetical conversation plants a seed in the innocent Lilly’s mind though, the two teens embark on a risky plan to murder Mark, which leads them to some dark places.
Despite what is an interesting setup, Thoroughbreds does its best to be as bland as possible. Cory Finely brings to the table a great looking film with some excellent cinematography, but almost everything inhabiting the luscious suburbs the film is based in is empty and emotionless. This is intentional in many ways, particularly with the character of Amanda who openly states that she feels nothing, but it doesn’t make the characters any more likeable nor does it get you invested in anything that they are trying to achieve.
The film is split into four chapters, and whilst each contains a clear narrative arc, there’s never really a moment where you feel a big change in the character’s mindset. This is particularly the case for the film’s ending in which certain things come to fruition very suddenly and characters make some choices completely out of left field. Another problem with the characters is the extent to which they feel detached from everything. When Lilly and Amanda decide to push on with killing Mark, it’s difficult to really care about whether they succeed because, more often than not, they have little to no emotional reaction as to what’s happening around them.
For all the talent on show here, the performances themselves feel very dry, with a lot of this being down to the incredibly bland dialogue. Olivia Cooke is probably the strongest as Amanda, not only does her character require that she be stone-faced and blunt, but her execution of some of the film’s dark, comedic moments is always great. A similar case can be made for Paul Sparks, who successfully plays an asshole enough to make Mark dislikeable, but not enough to want him to be killed necessarily. It’s worth noting that this movie will be the last appearance of the late Anton Yelchin on screen, and while his character, Tim, doesn’t play a major role, he’s one of the few we can sympathise with, despite not being incredibly likeable.
What does prove impressive is Thoroughbreds’ visual style. There’s something to be said about the way these luxurious mansions are very darkly lit, making them appear cold and empty despite the riches inside. There’s also some striking imagery with regards to the film’s violence, and the way that is handled very much fits with the tone overall. One lingering shot towards the finale is particularly effective and suggests that Finley is a far more capable director than he is a writer.
It will be interesting to see what Finley decides to do next as his visual style is intriguing, to say the least. No doubt too that Taylor-Joy and Cooke both pack bags of talent and will be around for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t quite come together with Thoroughbreds as the poor script and lack of feeling make it a very hard film to get into.
Thoroughbreds (2018), directed by Corey Finley, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures, certificate 15.