Playwright Cory Finley introduces himself to the cinematic landscape with his directorial debut Thoroughbreds, a Sundance-indie-comedy with a sinister neo-noir streak. Olivia Cooke portrays Amanda, a troubled teen that struggles to convey compassion and empathy. Because her issues keep her out of the public schooling system, she reunites with childhood friend Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) who reluctantly agrees offer private tutoring. Though their personalities clash initially, they soon strike up an unusual friendship, and together they hatch a murderous plan.
The sharp and witty script passes the Bechdel test with flying colours in the opening minutes, and the dialogue is refreshingly funny as Amanda and Lily converse about their thoughts and feelings with no mention of a boy. Erik Friedlander’s bizarre string-led score cements the film’s ominous edge early on, dropping clues to the territory the story may veer into, and events, as expected, take a dark turn.
Cooke and Taylor-Joy are both on fine form in their interesting roles, and as the plot thickens, it almost becomes a battle to see which character is more twisted. One wears her abrasive quirks on her sleeve, and the other has hidden depths to her darkness, which could potentially be even more dangerous. Strong support comes from the brilliant Paul Sparks who portrays Lily’s controlling stepfather Mark, and the late Anton Yelchin, who is great in what is tragically his final role as petty drug-dealer Tim.
Finley illustrates his impressive pedigree with Thoroughbreds, a riveting but exaggerated cinematic dissection of extremely flawed young minds and their capabilities. The story is told with its tongue firmly in its cheek, but successfully showcases the filmmaking promise of a fresh new talent.