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Critical Analysis: Thoroughbreds, Film

by Jenna Bernstein

By Jenna in the StarsPublished 2 years ago 6 min read
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**SPOILERS** If you have not seen the film Thoroughbreds please be aware that the following review contains spoilers.

When I was in high school I discovered cult classics. Every weekend my friends and I would watch another: The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Heathers, Donnie Darko, A Clockwork Orange, Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, Reservoir Dogs. We loved the movies that were so weird they were known for it. But always, aside from their crazy characters, bizarre scenarios, and at times overt violence, these movies deliver powerful observations on the sheer oddity that is society and human nature.

Writer-director Cory Finley's Thoroughbreds joins the ranks of cult classics without a doubt, delivering an engaging and suspenseful cinematic experience that challenges its viewer on many fronts. Not only does it have tremendously strong actresses who give intense, disturbing performances, it utilizes sound in interesting, tension-heightening ways (SPOILER: read: the ominous rhythmic sigh of the rowing machine upstairs). The sound track is pretty creepy, too.

Thoroughbreds tells the tale of New England's Elite – girls who go grew up in manors and chateaus in the countryside, with parents who can afford and indulge in such casual luxuries as new designer cars, samurai swords, boarding school tuition, etiquette lessons, home-rowing machines, and at-home tanning beds. Such privilege, in Finley's world, comes with a price.

Like many of the great cult films listed above, one distinction is that the characters are strange, unlikeable, even, but this is what makes for a great cult film – experiencing lives you never get to, otherwise. Thoroughbreds telescopes us into Lily's world to a dynamic moment in which she reunites with an old, estranged friend under a mask of pleasantries. Amanda is the town's newest freakshow and social outcast for committing a disturbing act of brutality (which we never see on screen, despite the film's gore) and finds herself out of the psych ward and home for the summer. Trying to do-good, her mother pays her old childhood friend Lily to “tutor” Amanda, if only to get her out of the house for some time.

Amanda is a sociopath. She committed a deadly act involving a kitchen knife and an injured family racehorse horse. Interesting that we never see live horses over the course of the movie. Initially, the viewer might think Amanda is the “bad person” of the pair. She transgresses boundaries, speaks her raw wry thoughts, and from the getgo demonstrates she is willing to test limits, or perhaps, is just wired that way. Her sociopathic monotone and deadpan, her distance from human emotion, and her uncanny stare make her an uncomfortable character to watch, a tribute to actress Olivia Cooke's performance. Saying from the start that she can't feel anything, we understand that she is the vehicle and catalyst for her friend Lily's transformation.

Lily, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, seems a balanced, tidy, and together young lady on the surface, the daughter of a recently deceased powerful man. But as the film progresses her together facade crumbles and gives way to the frustrated, stressed out, high-strung, and somewhat psychotic little girl underneath it all. While Amanda starts out as the obviously insane one, by the end of the film, the tables have turned in shocking and gruesome ways.

As a product of Lily's need to be heard, her desire to exert some control over her life, as privileged and flowered as it is, she conspires with Amanda to commit an unspeakable act. It's Amanda, really, who brings it up, although my sense as the audience is she brings it up almost as a joke, or a test, to see how far she can push her limits with Lily, thinking that Lily is more normal than she is. Lily knows that Amanda is capable of violence, and murder.

Finley makes a statement on class and wealth in America with this intimate cast of characters as well. In his last living role, Anton Yelchin plays Tim, a twenty-something living at home, dealing drugs to high-school kids at parties, who takes a somewhat sweet liking to Lily when they meet out one night. Although Tim may be a minor felon, he obviously has a heart, and eyes, for Lily. He dreams of moving up in the world, and claims his dealing days are numbered, that someday soon things'll be looking up.

His dream of upward mobility in America is sweet, but dwarfed completely by Lily and Amanda's wealth, as well as their dark plans, which they uncaringly rope him into. Tim, helpless to the wits and cruelty of Lily and Amanda, gets drawn in as a pawn to their violent scheme to murder Lily's stepfather. Tim's role in this story is the saddest of them all to me. He's a good person, made to do bad things by bad people with more money and more power than him. This to me is the tragic chain of corruption in hierarchical, capitalist societies. Tim manages to escape the situation without committed further crimes, and with nothing more than a bump on the head and some traumatic experiences.

Amanda, it turns out, is the hero, the martyr, and the loser in it all, and Lily, ever the manipulative control freak, desperate to get her way, stops at no price to get what she wants. What really makes this film a cult classic for me is the ending. The whole time, I didn't really think they would go through with it. I thought it was going to be one of those movies where they plan for something the whole time and it never happens, and they learn the lesson by the not-doing. But instead, no one learns lessons, not really, and they do it. They actually fucking do it. Or rather, she does it. Lily is an evil genius, the psychopath to Amanda's Sociopath. She plans to drug Amanda, murder her stepfather, and then set up Amanda to look like she committed the crime. When Amanda knowingly drinks the roofied drink, she pushes Lily to her farthest edge, to do the darkest and most consequential thing possible.

The girls are downstairs, watching an old Shirley Temple movie, the old ideal of a wealthy young girl having adventures. These girls are taking that concept to the next level with a twist... when you're so privileged that you can have and do anything you want, what's left to do besides the illegal, the immoral, the insane? Amanda consents to her fate and drinks the drugged drink. She leaves Lily alone in the dark of the room, lit by the TV. The heavy, irritating sigh of Lily's stepfather on the rowing machine upstairs scores Lily's movements as she leaves Amanda's side, passed out, unaware, on the couch. The shot stays on Amanda's sleeping face as Lily climbs the stairs, out of focus, in the background. The rhythmic sound carries on, carries on, carries on until finally, it stops, there's a dull thud. We know what's happened. And still, Shirley Temple continues laughing and singing and tapping away on the screen, Amanda sleeps on.

This movie is engaging for its duration. It held my attention the whole time, the characters were not relatable but at least entertaining, and the emotional bonds you form to these dysfunctional people of circumstance are surprising and poignant. What does it mean that these two fucked up individuals exist in this ultra-white purebred bubble of society? Nothing good that's for sure. I look forward to seeing what 28-year-old Corey Finley comes out with next.

movie review
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About the Creator

Jenna in the Stars

writer, astrologer, curious human

@ascensionastrology

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