Mark Reviews Movies



2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Cory Finley

Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift, Kaili Vernoff

MPAA Rating: R (for disturbing behavior, bloody images, language, sexual references, and some drug content)

Running Time: 1:32

Release Date: 3/9/18

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 9, 2018

The moments when Thoroughbreds raises a couple of alarms arrive early. We're introduced to a pair of teenage girls, one from an extremely wealthy family and the other from a slightly less—but still pretty—well-to-do home. Writer/director Cory Finley, a playwright making his debut feature, wants us to see the differences between these characters, in part on a socioeconomic level. It's difficult to buy, though, when one of the girls has an envelope of cash waiting for her on the banister of the main stairwell in her family's mansion, while the other girl's mother is paying hundreds of dollars just so her daughter can have a friend for the afternoon.

These two are either very or fairly privileged teens, spoiled by their lifestyles to different extents. This minor difference is built into the story, which is partly about the wealthy's ability and willingness to exploit those beneath them in order to get what they want. For a while, Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), who lives in the mansion, and Amanda (Olivia Cooke), who lives in the multi-story suburban home, don't seem so different in terms of their family's income. At a certain point, though, they run out of far less well-to-do people of whom to take advantage.

Class is very much on Finley's mind here, although it's mostly the psychological and moral failings that come from having pretty much anything available to a person at any given moment. The central joke is that, while Amanda is—according to herself and her therapist—devoid of any emotion, the far more emotional Lily might be the more dangerous of the pair.

In popular and complete non-psychiatric terms, Amanda what we'd call a sociopath. The movie opens with her staring into the eyes of a horse and, after a long beat, pulling a knife from her purse. We learn exactly what she did to the horse after the movie cuts to black. It's a grisly act, which Amanda describes in nauseating detail but with the tone of some sort of bland transaction. The horse was in pain, and as the person who spent the most time with the animal, it was her obligation to end that pain.

Lily wants to end some pain, too. It comes in the form of her stepfather Mark (Paul Sparks), whom her mother (played by Francie Swift) married after the death of Lily's father a few years ago. The stepfather's crime, it seems, is to be rich, to have imposed himself on Lily's life with his vast wealth, and, in response to her open revulsion of his existence, to decide to send her to an out-of-town boarding school. On a whim, Amanda wonders if Lily ever has considered killing her stepfather. Lily takes to the idea pretty quickly, once Amanda points out that it might be possible to get away with it.

The loudest alarm here comes from Amanda, who exists as a façade of a character, based entirely around a blatant but vaguely communicated psychiatric condition. It's clear that Finley's aims are satirical with this material, but such a broadly defined character feels like a contrivance, even within the context of a movie with aims as broad as this. He has provided us with two unsympathetic leads: Lilly, on account of her selfish and poorly justified thoughts of murder, and Amanda, on account of the fact that she is herself incapable of sympathy.

That's the point, of course, but there isn't really a counterpoint to the characters' immoral and amoral outlook on their lives, their plans, and their eventual actions. One does arrive briefly in the personage of Tim (the late Anton Yelchin), a local drug dealer in his late 20s, who's stuck in this Connecticut town because of a statutory rape conviction.

He is simultaneously as bad as these two—worse in the eyes of the law and the community—and the most human character to appear in the movie. The juxtaposition of his moral standing is striking: He's a bad guy by all accounts, but he's also pathetic (There's a moment when he reveals that he lives with his father that's both amusing and sad) and desperate to escape his lot in life. The girls' plan eventually involves paying Tim to kill Mark while the two have airtight alibis. His agreement to that plan is less out of greed than it is out of extortion and physical coercion on the part of Lily and Amanda.

Most of the movie, though, follows the girls, and it becomes increasingly difficult to see much potential in their characters, beyond the obvious critique of Lily's lifestyle by way of Amanda's emotionless existence. Thoroughbreds is a stylish, one-note movie, containing some scathing points about class, the way that a privileged individual's sense of entitlement can run rampant, and, eventually, how even a minimal socioeconomic distinction can be exploited. It's mostly a joke that runs its course pretty quickly.

Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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