BFI London Film Festival: Thoroughbreds

Directed by Cory Finley
Starring Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift and Kaili Vernoff
Screening at LFF October 9th, 10th, 11th, 2017

by Joanna Orland

An enigmatic modern noir, Thoroughbreds takes a story of teenage female friendship and turns it into something darkly fascinating. The film is carried by its two captivating leads Lily (Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Cooke), both with strong screen presence and stoic grace. Anton Yelchin, in one of his last roles, reminds us of the lost potential his passing has left behind.

Lily and Amanda reignite their childhood friendship, finding themselves different, yet the same to how they remember each other. Lily has since become wealthier, her stepfather extravagantly rich. Amanda has admitted to not ever having experienced actual emotions, and recently committed a controversial act of savagely euthanizing her beloved horse. As the girls grow closer, they further confide in each other. As a brazen Amanda notices Lily’s hate for her stepfather, she casually inquires if perhaps Lily has ever considered murdering him. Outraged at the prospect, a strain is put on their friendship, but as things develop, the two come together to devise a plan to see this through.

Everything is sharply complex rather than cartoonish in Thoroughbreds. Lily’s stepfather Mark (Sparks) is pitted as the villain, yet he feels just as much a victim. As do the devious teenagers plotting his demise. Anton Yelchin, as local drug dealer Tim, has an innocence and ambition to him, all the while being painted as a common criminal.

Stylishly bold and entertainingly witty, Thoroughbreds is thoroughly engaging. In the hands of lesser actors, perhaps the flaws of this film would shine brighter, but Taylor-Joy, Cooke and Yelchin are so wonderful that the overly quick story escalation, and contradictory plot holes can be overlooked. The one thing that does prey on my mind is the entire foundation of Amanda’s character. While she claims not to feel, and uses ‘techniques’ to display emotion, her friendship with Lily feels wholeheartedly real. If she is as vacant as she claims to be, surely she would not be able to feel such empathy towards her friend, willing to go to extreme lengths with great personal sacrifice. Perhaps it was the trauma of killing her horse that’s led Amanda to the conclusion that she doesn’t have feelings, or perhaps the unwitting theme overarching the film is the power of female friendship.


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