Thoroughbreds — Unsettling yet Charming
(Originally written on March 16, 2018)
Amidst all the big budget blockbusters and other films that are hogging the spotlight, sometimes it’s nice to seek out smaller films to take a break from the plethora of action-packed CGI-filled movies. While I do not criticize anyone who only watches ‘mainstream’ movies, nor do I dislike those particular films, there is something to be said about filmmakers who are not part of the mainstream. Granted, though I have not fully exposed myself to this whole other side of watching movies, I’m definitely willing to expand my preferences.
Case in point, I first heard about Thoroughbreds a few months ago while browsing through YouTube, specifically with the movie-related channels I follow. They said it was supposed to feel like “The Shining” meets “Heathers.” At first, I couldn’t fathom what that meant since I have not seen either of those films, but then I somewhat grasped what kind of tone(s) this movie would incorporate.
The story follows two girls who are drastically different. Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) seems normal but actually bottles up her feelings, while Amanda (Olivia Cooke) simply feels nothing emotionally. It is a peculiar friendship to say the least. They are pretty much estranged friends from the beginning of the film, but realize over repeated encounters they are actually quite comfortable with each other. The main crux of the plot revolves around how much Lily detests her stepfather but doesn’t know how to deal with her frustration, leading to the two girls coming up with a rather outrageous plan.
The main thing I liked about Thoroughbreds was the dynamic between the two female leads and how their personalities conflicted with each other. Even though they are unalike, it was fascinating to see how they, to a small degree, share some similarities. Another aspect of the film that was great were the performances. Whenever the two girls exchanged words, it was similar to how a conversation in real life would play out (within the context of these types of personalities). The characters are believable and hold your attention throughout. Surprisingly, even the minor character of Tim (played by the late Anton Yelchin) was enjoyable to watch. The film is carried by the actors, which is refreshing when it doesn’t need to rely on special effects or big set piece moments.
It should be noted, however, how the film tends to lean into wanting to create an atmosphere of tension which can leave viewers feeling slightly uncomfortable (whereas to some, that can be a positive thing). I didn’t mind it that much. I also appreciated how the director took camera cues from “The Shining” such as long takes that follow closely behind characters and extremely slow zooms (something I learned after the fact). Also, the music definitely helps with seemingly dissonant sounds that increase the level of discomfort. As great as these factors are, some scenes felt unnecessarily drawn out (slow burn) and made me question whether they were ‘artistic’ or just filling in for time.
Cory Finley’s directorial debut is highly interesting, dark, with hints of being twisted. Though things don’t feel completely resolved by the end, there isn’t too much plot to go on and there aren’t too many scenes involving something ‘exciting’, I enjoyed the performances and the oddly charming friendship between characters Lily and Amanda, as well as seeing Anton Yelchin in one of his final roles.
- A. Shin