Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy cement their positions as two of the most captivating young actresses working today in Thoroughbreds, a wickedly humorous psychodrama straddling the class divide in small-town Connecticut and exposing the complex malevolence of the adolescent psyche.
After years apart, teenagers Amanda (Cooke) and Lily (Taylor-Joy) are reunited in a last-ditch effort by Amanda’s mother to ground her daughter in a positive environment. The troubled young woman is undergoing counselling after a violent incident with her beloved horse. Lily has been hired to tutor her childhood friend, and at first they appear to be worlds apart.
Lily has grown into a composed and ambitious young woman, despite her mother remarrying Mark (Paul Sparks), a profoundly narcissistic douchebag. Amanda. meanwhile, has allowed her lack of emotional substance to bubble to the surface, alienating her from family, friends and the rest of society.
Despite their frosty introduction, however, Amanda and Lily soon discover that they share similar outlooks and opinions on how the world could benefit from fewer arseholes, and hatch a plot to murder Lily’s stepfather.
The debut feature from Cory Finley will draw easy comparisons to Michael Lehmann’s 1988 classic Heathers, as it taps into the callous and calculating sensibilities of its female protagonists. Like the earlier film, Thoroughbreds juxtaposes its heroines need to maintain a pristine public image and social identity with their flippant attraction to violence and chaos.
Tyler McIntyre’s Tragedy Girls covered similar territory earlier this year, and while that film’s high school setting and obsession with peer validation might seem closer to Heathers at first glance, it is Thoroughbreds that better harnesses the homicidal sensibility of its characters.
The late Anton Yelchin appears in a small yet pivotal supporting role, but Thoroughbreds is really a two horse race, and Cooke and Joy both put in fantastically nuanced performances that complement and contrast each other beautifully.
British actress Cooke, who broke out in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, as well as establishing her horror credibility in Ouija and The Limehouse Golem, is effortlessly captivating as the sociopathic Amanda. Unable to experience love, anger, sadness or any other emotion that defines a real human, she mimics her way through life with cold, calculating conviction.
Conversely, Anya Taylor-Joy, who was sensational in both The Witch and M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, presents Lily as a picture of pristine composure. The product of a wealthy - albeit broken - home, she seemingly has it all. While it will come as no surprise to find that beneath her icy exterior, Lily is barely holding it together - as opposed to Amanda’s complacent calmness - Taylor-Joy walks that psychological tightrope gracefully.
A film of immaculate, inhospitable exteriors concealing rage, jealousy, fear and an innate need for compassion and companionship, Thoroughbreds delivers layers of substance beneath an understated yet stylish exterior of wit and charm. Cooke and Taylor-Joy are both well-established on their star-making trajectories, with Thoroughbreds proving a notable addition to their filmographies, but all eyes should be on Cory Finley and whether he proves a one-trick pony, or well…you get it.
Review originally published during Fantastic Fest in September 2017. The film will open in U.S. theaters on Friday, March 9, via Focus Features.