Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Review: Thoroughbreds

Cert: 15 / 93 mins / Dir. Cory Finley / Trailer

As the third-entry in a recent four movie marathon, Cory Finley's Thoroughbreds was something of a wildcard. The performance-time fitted neatly into my schedule, and I'd seen the trailer once several weeks previously, although I couldn't remember much about it. With this in mind, I felt somewhat unprepared as I sat down in screen 4*1, which is probably why I can't decide if Thoroughbreds is interestingly uneven or completely magnificent.

In an upmarket suburb of Connecticut, troubled high school student Amanda (Olivia Cooke) receives unexpected help with her coursework from the highly-strung but highly intelligent Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy). When Amanda learns that Lily's home-life is even more fraught with tension than her own, the two form a precarious bond and begin to wonder if murder might be a solution…

Well. This felt like hiding in a broom-cupboard during someone else's group therapy session, and if that idea fills you with horror then Thoroughbreds won't be for you. This is very much a performance-piece, bouncing between Olivia Cooke's oddly-detached Amanda and the concealed seething of Anya Taylor-Joy's Lily. Taylor-Joy is dependable as always, although it's great to see her again in a more dramatically-demanding part (cf). Anton Yelchin has a smaller role than the publicity-machine would perhaps suggest (his last, sadly), as low-rent potential assassin Tim, but his presence brings a more human sense of comic-uncertainty (and at times, panic) to the proceedings. He almost feels too likeable for a film which doesn't particularly want to be liked.

Cooke, on the other hand, is the pleasant surprise here. It's not inaccurate to say that I've struggled with her past performances, feeling an emotive disconnect between the actress and the camera. So when Olivia rocks up here as a character with an empathic dissociative disorder, someone incapable of feeling an emotional response to anything, even I can't explain why I suddenly found her to be more relatable than ever*2. Far from being uncomprehending in her responses to people, Amanda reads emotions in others flawlessly, using them to her own advantage with the unclouded logic of someone unencumbered with guilt or even morality. Very much my kind of psychopath*3.

The mechanics of Cory Finley's story are effective, even if any twists in the road are signposted well in advance. But the heart of the film is as morally dysfunctional as its protagonists, not quite willing to endorse their behavioural breakdowns, but not flinching away from showing them anyway.

And cinematographer Lyle Vincent's lengthy 'sofa shot' in the third act, complete with its crawling zoom, is a work of art in itself. Bravo.

Thoroughbreds won't get the exposure it deserves this early in its release, but the natural home of this movie is that unnerving and unexpected surprise on the streaming service of your choice…

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Heathers, To Die For, Plastic.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you can, sure.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
To rent/stream, sure. Most people won't get much out of repeat screenings.
Then again, you're not most people, right?

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Let's not go mad, but everyone involved can be pleased with what they've made.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
I wouldn't have thought so.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Anya Taylor-Joy's in this, and she was in The VVitch with Ralph 'Garmuth' Ineson and Kate 'Hux's First Order Monitor Who Apparently Doesn't Have A Character Name Yet' Dickie. Seriously guys, she's got dialogue in The Last Jedi, Garmuth doesn't. Get her a name already

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Although I have it on good authority that this is how many people choose watch movies; just turn up at the cinema and see what's on. This seems like a borderline insane scheduling of free time, but I have to concede that as someone who keeps a blog-assisting spreadsheet, I'm very much at the other end of that particular scale... [ BACK ]

*2 Although I suspect that says more about me as the audience than Cooke as the performer, admittedly... [ BACK ]

*3 Like I said, this admiration reflects upon me, I know. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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