Thoroughbreds is only a mildly exaggerated representation of the elite of suburban Connecticut, or Westchester, New York. Greenwich is filled with beautiful yoga moms and their children dressed in matching blazers, designer-bred show dogs and cars worth more than your house. This is an expose of the young and privileged, who both comfortably occupy the bubble they’ve grown up in and desperately long for freedom from it. They’ve grown up financially secure but emotionally neglected. Privilege is a necessity and empathy is a weakness.
This is one of the most impressive debut features I’ve seen in years. Cory Finley’s eye for detail is impeccable. Not a moment was wasted. Thoroughbreds, on paper, should not have been the funniest film of the past year but it was, and that’s just a testament to comic timing. Amanda’s (Olivia Cooke) deadpan sarcasm, Lily’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) ice-cold poise and Tim’s (the late Anton Yelchin) bumbling ineptitude play off of each other in ways both comical and deeply unsettling. It has been (justifiably) compared to Heathers or Heavenly Creatures but it doesn’t feel like a recycled take on an old idea- I think Finley has successfully sculpted an identity of his own.
Erik Friedlander’s score is otherworldly and anxiety-inducing, cleverly incorporating the incessant repetition of the sound of Stepdad Mark’s rowing machine. There’s something immensely satisfying and hilarious about watching a petite and well-dressed teenage girl with perfect posture walk very purposefully through the halls of her mcmansion set to what sounds like war drums.
“This was written by a playwright and you can tell” typically carries a negative connotation when talking about a film, alluding to dialogue-heavy sequences or a monotonous pace. I never thought that was entirely fair because while you might be able to criticize a film for not utilizing the medium to its advantage, sharp dialogue and a small cast of well-developed characters should never be considered a detriment. If anything, this is proof that playwrights should try their hand at adapting their own work to the screen. One particularly memorable scene could easily have been shot with a slew of cuts and fast editing to increase tension, instead it was shot in one uncomfortably long take, a risky directorial decision that could only have come from a playwright used to writing stories meant to unfold in “real time”. And it paid off because it is one of the most tense and effective sequences you’ll see this year. It is a scene that relies not on what we are able to follow with a camera, but what we can’t- we have to sit in silence as we wait for what we can guess is inevitably happening in another room, because the set doesn’t move. The advantage of film as a medium is that we can follow a character out of a room very easily, but sometimes it is more effective when we can’t. Despite what you might have been told, techniques of storytelling through different mediums can translate from one to another, and beautifully so.
Thoroughbreds is a pitch black comedy that won’t sit well with everyone, but I am confident that this will develop a strong and well-deserved cult following in the coming years.