Thoroughbreds is a story about bad girls. Directed by Cory Finley, the film revolves around two friends—both rich white girls who live in mansions and drive expensive cars—and their odd friendship. Amanda, portrayed by Olivia Cooke, is an apparent sociopath; she feels no emotions whatsoever. The other, Lily, brilliantly portrayed by Anya Taylor-Joy (who some may recognize from her role in The Witch), is the perfectly primed offspring of an elite family, down to her boarding school education and SAT tutoring. Full of dark humor, the film is a carefully curated tale of grooming gone wrong.
Lily seems to be the perfect young socialite daughter. She lives in a picturesque mansion, has a perfect GPA, and looks flawless all the time. But as the story progresses, certain aspects of her life come to light, revealing things that aren’t as picture-perfect. She is angry and repressed, but not in a stereotypical angsty teenager way. Lonely, arrogant, and ambitious, she stands out because she doesn’t cry or lash out; she uses any resource around her, from the local drug dealer (Anton Yelchin) to her newly rekindled friendship with Amanda, to try to fix her life. Her stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks), is a complete tool, the kind of guy that has a samurai sword hanging in his office and only pictures of himself and a lion on his desk. He is mean, manipulative, and has no respect for her or her mother, so Lily decides, at Amanda’s suggestion, to kill him. What follows is a tale of trial and error as the young women attempt to murder Mark.
Although Amanda knows what is considered right and wrong, she has no problem blurring the two. She is blunt, usually trying to provoke an honest reaction in whatever she does. She can cry on command and lie through her teeth without flinching yet, despite all that, she is basically sweet and likeable when viewed through the lens of her relationship with Lily. She relies on social cues and mirrors others around her, so when Lily agrees to the crime there’s little to hold the both of them back.
It could be argued that this story is about grooming: two young women are told throughout their lives how to act, what to be, and most importantly, how to appear. They have a delineated path to follow. But these two women, although seemingly very different at the start of the movie, are both struggling to fit into the mold they’ve been cast—the difference being that Lily cares and Amanda does not.
The actors are all impressive, giving meaning to their every blink and hand movement. Taylor-Joy leaves you hanging onto her every word, never quite sure what she’ll do next. She is demure but violently expressive in the details, whether a twitch or held breath. Cooke, on the other end of the spectrum, acts only in monotone sentences, but still manages to elicit feeling and create in the viewer a yearning for emotion. They are both terrifying and heart-breaking to watch. Lily and Amanda aren’t like film’s favorite rebel bad boys (loveable if they could just change a little). Rather, they are a force to behold once their anger is unleashed.
This is the kind of movie where knowing what happens at the end doesn’t ruin the pleasure of watching the film. Every single shot is measured and curated, not an item is out of place, and symmetry is everywhere; everything is meant to be exactly as it is. There are an unusual amount of close-ups, (fortunately all the cast has flawless skin), and silence is used often, piquing audience interest as to what will happen next, whether that be a violent scene or a banal letdown. The music is mostly instrumental but rarely melodic, relying especially on percussions. The mood is eerie yet lovely, thanks to the colors, textures, and careful framing that inhabit every moment. Even the drug dealer the girls hire to kill Mark is deeper than expected, even endearing, to an extent. He has dreams and ambitions that suffer when faced with reality; another character who doesn’t quite fit in with those around him.
Thoroughbreds is thought-provoking because it asks How far are we willing to go? and What makes a person good or bad? This isn’t the first nor the last film in the recent wave of deep-dives into the twisted minds of killers. (The Netflix series The End of the F***ing World comes to mind.) Thoroughbreds is a good movie to watch if you enjoy a twisted sense of humor with timely barbs and monotone sentences. It has the approachability and aesthetic of a blockbuster and the insightfulness of a more serious film. Either way, you’ll be entertained by teenage murderers in the making.