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Review: Teens with droll humour and jet black sensibility in Thoroughbreds

PUBLISHED: 15:54 05 April 2018 | UPDATED: 15:54 05 April 2018

Olivia Cooke as Amanda and Anya Taylor-Joy as Lily in Thoroughbreds. Photo: Focus Features/Universal/Claire Folger

Olivia Cooke as Amanda and Anya Taylor-Joy as Lily in Thoroughbreds. Photo: Focus Features/Universal/Claire Folger

Archant

Mean girls mean business in writer-director Cory Finley debut feature, a lip-smacking psychological thriller of cruel intentions and unscrupulous personal advancement set in rarefied suburban Connecticut.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Lily and Olivia Cooke as Amanda in Thoroughbreds. Photo: Focus Features/Universal/Claire FolgerAnya Taylor-Joy as Lily and Olivia Cooke as Amanda in Thoroughbreds. Photo: Focus Features/Universal/Claire Folger

Thoroughbreds (15)

***

The succinct, to-the-point description of this teen black comedy thriller would be a Bret Easton Ellis script directed by Whit Stillman.

Except that would then require explaining that Stillman is the occasional maker of refined, literate, terrifically tasteful and generally unbearable films about preppy born rich Americans, and then the moment is lost. And if Cory Finley’s debut film has a merit, it is getting to the point.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Lily and Kaili Vernoff as Karen in Thoroughbreds. Photo: Focus Features/Universal/Claire FolgerAnya Taylor-Joy as Lily and Kaili Vernoff as Karen in Thoroughbreds. Photo: Focus Features/Universal/Claire Folger

It spells everything out from the off. It starts with two very rich pampered American teens sitting together in a parent’s mansion when Amanda, locally infamous from a recent Equus incident, blurts out that she doesn’t have any genuine emotions: “I have a perfectly sane mind, it just doesn’t contain feelings. That doesn’t make me a bad person.”

Which is pretty much the dictionary definition of a sociopath. The film then quickly establishes that Lily really hates her stepfather. Can you guess where we are going with this?

The film has droll humour and a jet black sensibility. Heathers will get chucked around as a reference point, but there’s no real connection. Heathers was intoxicated by its immorality; giddy with its verbal extravagance. Thoroughbreds is stilted and contained. Nobody here is having any fun.

Anton Yelchin’s final screen performance as their prefered stooge is impressive but the film is the two leads. Olivia Cooke’s delivery is reminiscent of Ellen Page but the casual, no-big-deal way she plays a psychopath is all her own. Anya Taylor-Joy is a really arresting screen presence. She has a face that border on caricature and flickers between conventional beauty and weird looking, like an optical illusion picture. It’s a fearsome tool, particularly in a role which requires ambiguity.

Anton Yelchin as Tim in Thoroughbreds. Photo: Focus Features/Universal/Claire FolgerAnton Yelchin as Tim in Thoroughbreds. Photo: Focus Features/Universal/Claire Folger

The evil empathy-free teen is now such an established movie figure. Thoroughbreds treads a now-familiar path better than most without seeming to offer anything new.

But this movie could represent a paradigm shift. In the 21st century we have gradually come to an understanding of the condition and a realization about the percentage of sociopaths in society and that they aren’t all twitching at our shower curtains with knives. This wouldn’t be the first film to have a sociopath as its lead character, or even as its hero, but it may be the first to view a sociopath neutrally.

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