FOCUS FEATURES (2018)

 

Director: Cory Finley

 

Starring: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift

It hadn’t dawned on me that horses may have a role to play in this movie, despite the clear titular reference.

 

Making his directorial debut, Cory Finley gives us Thoroughbreds – a strange hybrid of mystery, drama and black comedy. With up-and-coming stars Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy leading from the front, at least the performances would be spot on but, thankfully, so too is the story…

 

…after a rocky start.

After a violent horse-related incident, Amanda (Cooke) is in trouble. Before any legal action, she is sent to see her estranged childhood friend Lily (Taylor-Joy) in an attempt to provide tutoring and, above all, some friendship to the troubled youngster. As the friendship between the two peculiar ladies blossoms once more, Amanda notices the fiery relationship between Lily and her pain-in-the-ass-arrogant stepfather, Mark (Sparks), and floats the idea of murdering him for the greater good – with the help of local user and abuser Tim (Yelchin). What first begins as a source of disparity between the friends soon becomes a very real possibility.

 

Thoroughbreds swerves between genres but never loses its near-macabre sense of humour, thanks to some (generally) sharp writing and two marvellous lead performances from Cooke and Taylor-Joy. Mismatched in the confines on the movie, the pair strikes up a superb chemistry right away and provide the movies strong backbone, and Anton Yelchin’s (in his final role) jittery, sympathetic loser is a fine foil for the leads. The opening twenty-five minutes stumbled and plodded along before the movie seemed to find itself and thunder ahead. A bit grim, a bit funny and superbly acted, Thoroughbreds is a fine debut effort from Finley.

 

Olivia Cooke, all wide-eyed and emotionless, and Anya Taylor-Joy – glossy and preppy – steer the ship excellently, with a grounded Anton Yelchin providing strong support in what was to tragically be his final role. Without them, the movie may have floundered slightly more as their compelling performances give you something to cling to in a story that’s fairly thin and muddy, at points. The idea to kill the EVIL stepfather is created, but the movie never really dives into why Lily would or should go through with it – he is just presented as an arrogant douche and as the story goes on, more motive appears but it’s all left on the sidelines. There are points in the movie that just…happen, and are either glossed over or forgotten. When Thoroughbreds got it right, however, it got it right. The climactic finale is wonderfully presented and some of the cinematography/camerawork is beautiful. The tribal beats that accompany parts of the movie are a welcome addition and fit right in with the off-kilter feel of proceedings.

 

If you’re looking for an incisive message or commentary, you may have to dig (very) deep to find it. The movie seems like it has something to say but never actually achieves it. Parallels with the fine, equine thoroughbreds and the class divides are thrown in and unsubtle nods to the rich and poor permeate the movie, but by the end, I was scratching for some meaning. Maybe Finley wanted it this way, but I’m not so sure.

 

The excellent performances power the movie along, and when it hits the mark, Thoroughbreds is superb. The floundering opening act and misguided message endeavours bring the movie down a few pegs but the parts make up for the sum. Grim, vacuous and engrossing, Thoroughbreds is a fine offering from an up-and-coming cast and director.

July 3rd 2018

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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