|Original caricature by Jeff York of Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke in THOROUGHBREDS (copyright 2018)|
Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) used to be BFF's while growing up rich and privileged in Connecticut. One of their passions was horseback riding, but those days are long gone now. As the film starts, Amanda is no longer allowed near stables since she committed a gruesome mercy killing of a horse. That act landed her on a psychiatrist's couch and far afield of Lily's social calendar. Meanwhile, Lily has had her own problems. Since her mother remarried, the teen has not gotten along with self-absorbed stepdad Mark (Paul Sparks) one single day. Lily also has some issues with her schooling and seems to be unhappy with the rest of her pampered existence.
Amanda's mom thinks her daughter could benefit from reconnecting with Lily and decides to pay Lily to tutor her daughter hoping they can be friends again, as well as get her back on track for school. But despite all the head-shrinking, Amanda is hardly ready to return to the posh, East Coast lifestyle. She's down-in-the-mouth cynical, brutally honest, and brazenly aware that she's practically a sociopath. Yet, that doesn't turn off Lily. In fact, it jazzes her because it's like a hot knife cutting through the cold butter of her daily existence.
The more time they spend together, the more their friendship does blossom again, but not in the loving and socialite way that Amanda's mom hopes for. Lily realizes that she's just as antisocial as Amanda is, and welcomes her friend as the match to light her fuse. Soon, the two misanthropic teens are talking trash about all in their lives that is hollow and unsatisfying, as well as those they hate. At the top of the list for Lily is Mark, of course, and reading between the lines, Amanda suggests that their lives would be better if they killed him.
Sure, Finley creates an intriguing game of "will they or won't they" here, but he's more interested in exploring the intricacies of these twisted girls and their friendship. As the story progresses, we discover, along with Amanda, that Lily is really the one who's the most deviant and dangerous. And Finley persuades that if the two had never gotten back together, they might have been able to be moral and upstanding individually. But together, they are a lethal combination, doomed to help destroy the other. It may take a village to raise a child, but one errant friend will help you burn it all down.
|Olivia Cooke, Cory Finley, and Anya Taylor-Joy|
Cooke has gotten trapped in some less than stellar horror films lately, most likely due to her five seasons on BATES MOTEL, but she deserves far juicier roles. (BTW...she played the sweet as pie ingenue on that series!) That's why it's so fantastic to see her getting to stretch so here, playing droll comedy as the oddball Amanda. Cooke barely blinks and keeps a blasé expression on her face almost the entire film as a character who has trouble feeling empathy, or anything for that matter. Yet, within such confinement, Cooke finds lovely nuances of humanity. Her Amanda may be homicidal, but the girl is still a rollicking good time.
Still, the majority of praise here must go to Finley. He comes from the world of the playwright, and that accounts for his sharp dialogue and vivid characterizations. Yet he's a natural filmmaker too. His camerawork, sound design, editing, and underscoring are equal to directors with three times his experience. His camera set-ups are unique and often askew to add to the tension. And sometimes he even places his camera a smidge too close to his actors, all the better to ensure we're made uncomfortable so up close and personal with the characters' evil. Other times, Finley frames the exquisite settings to look like expensive prisons - stodgy and sterile. He is a superb artist and showman, suggesting a bright future in the movies if he wants. Indeed, as talent goes, this artist is already a thoroughbred.