Thoroughbreds, written and directed by Cory Finley, offers two main characters who continually fascinate you and have you forever questioning their motives and what they are really thinking. This was a film that at times felt rudderless. It knew where it wanted to be and knew the general direction for getting there, but there seemed to be a lack of a driving force to get them there in a stable, concicive way. But, there is still something to this film that pulls you and intrigues you. Something that resulted in me being at all times interested in seeing where it was going. This is one of those films that sticks around in your head long after it’s done. So let’s explore what Thoroughbreds gets right and what it doesn’t, and see if this is a film you should check out.
Amanda – played by Olivia Cooke – and Lily – played by Anya Taylor-Joy – were once best friends, but in the subsequent years had grown apart. However, their friendship slowly begins to reform and they soon find themselves going down a dark path, with dire consequences at the end of it.
I found myself itching to go to the cinema and see a film but wasn’t sure of what to see, so I decided to just choose from the list in front of me and wing it from there. I hadn’t seen any of the trailers for Thoroughbreds and apart from a few tweets I had glanced at over the weeks, I had no prior knowledge as to what this film was or what it was about. I decided to treat it like an experiment of how much more effective can a movie going experience be, if you know absolutely nothing of the film you’re about to watch? Turns out, it makes for an extremely engaging experience (in the case of Thoroughbreds that is).
From it’s opening scene, Thoroughbreds immediately had my attention. With its unnerving score that created an atmosphere of unease. To it’s long lingering shots that had hints of dread running through them; I was confident that I had chosen myself a good one and was really excited to see what type of alarming adventure I was about to be taken on.
It’s in the films two main characters and how they first interact, that I began to smile. Both Amanda and Lily are unusual teenagers. They don’t think or act like normal teenagers. There’s something dark lurking within them. Amanda’s unusual qualities are more overt and so at first much more enticing to watch. It was here that I first noticed the brilliantly subtle work that Olivia Cooke was putting into her performance. The emptiness within her eyes; the cold, lifeless cadence of her speech. I began to form my assumptions of her and began to get excited about the prospects of who the character would become.
But hiding in plain sight was Lily. She was a character who tricked me in the beginning. My assumptions of her and the path she would take in the film were completely wrong. Much like Amanda, there was something not right about her, but she was just much better at concealing it. And of course, credit has to go to Anya Taylor-Joy who plays these aspects of the character brilliantly. What I first assumed to be a monotone performance, actually turned out to be a deliberate choice that worked really well within the context of the film.
When it was first revealed that Lily was just as manipulative and full of secrets as Amanda, I was both taken by surprise and even more excited for where both of the characters would go. I fully believe that if I had seen the trailers or read too much about this film; my initial experience with this it would have been completely different, and in no way as satisfying as it was.
Both Lily and Amanda are disturbingly good at manipulating one another and the others around them. Their exploration of emotions and how to use them to their advantage was a lot of fun to watch. There is certainly a dark sense of humour to this film where you let out a wee chuckle, even though you sometimes shouldn’t. The dialogue in the beginning between Amanda and Lily was a treat to gorge on. The layers of subtext within a single sentence or the little white lies that were used to move the conversation in the direction that suited them, was (as an amateur writer and a lover of good script) joyful. This is also a script that does a great job of leaving little breadcrumbs for you to pick up and see pay off later in the film. It was a script that was both satisfying and at times problematic (something I’ll touch upon now).
As the film progressed, and it moved forward with its plot, I began to notice small issues that soon began to grow into problems. Take the dialogue for example. Like I just mentioned, I was loving the nuances within Amanda and Lily’s conversations. But as the film went on, the dialogue began to feel more and more unnatural. I’m not sure if it was like this for the whole film, as admittedly I was too enraptured by it in the beginning. But it was certainly something that became a problem for me, the more the film went on.
Characters didn’t talk like how people talk. They talked like how writers think people talk. It was a situation where words flew back and forth fast; everyone had quick, witty response to everything, and it soon all began to feel a little to clean and clinical in its construction. It’s the ‘Sorkin effect.’ Everyone is smarter than everyone else and talks in rhymes and riddles. To be fair to Thoroughbreds though, it’s not exactly Sorkin levels of unbelievable, but I did get hints of it. But Thoroughbreds is a quirky, off-kilter sort of film, so it could perhaps be argued that the dialogue was an extension of what is a somewhat unconventional film. I’m not sure – which is a state of mind I had more, the longer the film went on (not being sure).
Thoroughbreds seemed to know where it wanted to get to and had a loose idea of the moments it wanted to hit on, but it didn’t have the strands of thread to connect it all together. As it went on, it did seem to lose direction and steam. There was one point in particular where I had to mentally step back and try to remember what the end goal was. What was driving the main characters and why did it matter? These driving forces became murky to me.
But here’s the weird thing: I never lost interest in the film. It certainly seemed to lose the strand of what it was doing, which in turn caused me to lose the strand of what it was doing, but I never lost my curiosity for the film. I lost my emotional investment – Thoroughbreds is a film that is emotionally distant and quite cold in presentation. But I was still fascinated by Amanda and Lily – though that fascination was quite clinical in nature. I was interested to see what lengths they would go to and how they would go about it. Despite there being a clear loss of direction, there was still something about this film pulling me in and keeping me engaged.
Did Thoroughbreds deliver on that curiosity? Yes and no. The ending was a little anti-climactic. It didn’t hit the levels I was hoping for – but if my assumptions of what the film might have been suggesting in the final few scenes are correct, then I’m wrong and the film pulled off something masterful. But either wat, I still thoroughly enjoyed the ride I was taken on. When the credits rolled, and it was time to leave the cinema, I didn’t feel disappointed in the film I had watched. I was intrigued by what I had seen. I was eager to talk about it with my buddy Philip and pick his brain on what his thoughts were. I’ve also enjoyed bouncing the film around in my noggin; mulling over the questions I had and trying to dissect what clues may have been lurking beneath the surface of certain scenes.
This is certainly a film that plays with your head. It didn’t end up being what I was expecting, but I’m completely fine with that, because what I got was still enjoyable. I never wanted to switch off from this film, I never found myself hoping for it to end. I was at all times engaged in what I was watching and that’s why I ultimately enjoyed what I experienced.
I’m going to recommend, Thoroughbreds. I liked much about this film, but also had problems with a few things. But for me, the positives outweighed the negatives. It was also really bittersweet to see Anton Yelchin, as this film further proves what a fantastic talent he was, and I will sorely miss his contribution to film. I hope you find the time to see Thoroughbreds and enjoy it as much as I did.
I’m really interested to know what you thought of Thoroughbreds and my review of it. Please leave and opinions or feedback you may have in the comments section down below. Also, it would be great if you would consider following both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. But I’ll stop with my rambling now and bring this review to a close by saying thank you to you. Thank you for dedicating some of your time to reading my review. I wholly appreciate it!