CREDIT: Claire Folger/Focus Features

This review was originally posted on News Cult in March 2018.

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

Director: Cory Finley

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for a Psychopathic, Clinical Approach to Blood and a Little Bit of Language and Upper Middle Class Drug Use

Release Date: March 9, 2018 (Limited)

As as I became acquainted with the premise of Thoroughbreds – Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) team up to kill the former’s stepfather (Paul Sparks) – I of course had to ask: what is it that drives Lily all the way to murder? But alas, that is not really a question this film cares to answer. It is not exactly ignored, but you would expect a grave decision like this to be given more consideration than Lily gives it. If he were abusing her in some way, you could understand why she would go to such an extreme. But the conflict basically boils down to: he wants her to stop freeloading and she thinks he’s a jerk. It is totally understandable why they have such a chilly relationship, but it hardly justifies murder.

It should be noted, though, that that shallow decision-making and outsize retribution is kind of the point. This is a bloody satire in the vein of Heathers. But the whole affair is so underplayed that you never feel the over-the-top nature of the premise. There is a matter-of-fact presentation that makes it hard to peg what writer/director Cory Finley wants us to conclude about Lily and Amanda’s motives and machinations. Since one or both of them is in essentially every scene, we are immersed in their perspective to the point that what they are scheming seems like so much less of a big deal than it obviously is.

Thoroughbreds works best as a showcase for its two leads. Amanda is some sort of sociopathic or psychopathic, unable to intuit the meanings of facial expressions, but practiced at faking emotions. Cooke nails a combination of off-putting but somehow friendly. Lily is the apparently more “normal” of the two, but that description really only fits insofar as how she is more adept at displaying and interpreting typically genuine emotions. She is prone to moral slipperiness that reads as inherent to her nature. The title basically refers to how these two have been groomed by nature to be the perfect criminals. Anton Yelchin (in one of his last roles) shows up as a drug dealer to privileged kids who Lily and Amanda hire to help them carry out the deed. He puts his own spin on the “you’re all blind sheep” shtick, but mostly he just serves a plot convenience.

These off-kilter individuals get their very appropriate soundtrack in the form of Erik Friedlander’s weird percussive score. It is so lacking in melody or any aspect of musical structure that I wonder if what I’m recognizing is actually just part of the sound mixing. Either way, it is an appropriate fit. It is a cold and clinical soundscape that is fit for me to love, while that same approach with the narrative has more modest results.

Thoroughbreds is Recommended If You Like: Heathers, The Loved Ones, American Psycho, Avant-garde percussive scores

Grade: 3 out of 5 Practice Smiles