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Fantastic Fest Film Review: Thoroughbreds (2017)

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SYNOPSIS:

Two teenage girls in suburban Connecticut rekindle their unlikely friendship after years of growing apart. In the process, they learn that neither is what she seems to be, and that a murder might solve both of their problems.

REVIEW:

Director: Cory Finley
Writer: Cory Finley
Starring: Anya- Taylor Joy, Olivia Cooke, and Anton Yelchin

The still shot from this film immediately aroused my interest. Im also a fan of Anya-Taylor Joys acting in The Witch and Olivia Cooke in Bates Motel. So, when I sat down to watch Cory Finleys directorial debut at Fantastic Fest, I was pleasantly impressed. The first unique and striking aspect of the film was the score.  In the opening scenes, we are introduced to Amanda (Olivia Cooke) standing face to face with a horse where she eventually pulls out a knife from the shadows.

Next, we see her arriving to an affluent house and aimlessly wandering around the rooms while waiting on her tutor. What seems to be a mindless act is instead suspenseful and even mildly disturbing, but not enough information is provided to know why. The score is strongly mechanic and practically animalistic, but slow in its delivery while Amanda browses each room with no expression except to quickly smile at herself in the mirror as if checking if anything is in her teeth.

 

Upon reuniting with her old friend turned academic tutor, Lily (Anya-Taylor Joy), there is immediate tension and awkwardness in their encounter which is more business-like than what you would expect from two teenage girls. Lily takes pity upon Amanda, who has been ostracized from her peers due to her strange behavior and flat-affect, and attempts to rekindle their friendship.  Encompassed with anger towards her emotionally and verbally abusive step-father, Lily envies Amandas ability to remove herself from her emotions and seeks out ways to eradicate her step-father from her life completely. Their encounters continue to be estranged yet subtly and strangely sweet while they attempt to plot a murder because divorce or running away and getting a job is apparently not an option at all.

Thoroughbreds was initially written as a play and therefore, contains a fairly heavy amount of dialogue. However, the conversations do not fall flat and instead have hints of dark comedy that shine through while the girls seek what their life is missing in order to be content. Their natural magnetism is evident and enhanced through close-up head shots and symmetrical framing techniques in which the girls are opposite of each other as if mirrored parallels.

Lily and Amanda utilize Tim (Anton Yelchin), a washed up drug dealer who lingers around high school parties, by blackmailing him into their scheme. Toms character seems disjointed from their narrative and life in general.  However, as a whole, his presence could represent a bridge to Lily and Amandas character arcs and subsequent outcome at the end of the film.

The film plays homage to Hitchcock in its plot, characters, and tension while avoiding gore and abounding violence.  As a female, I found this reflective take on emotion quite interesting since I cant tell you how many times Ive been told to smile in my life or expected to react or act a certain way but also witnessing and hearing women be categorized as overly dramatic. This story of two teenage girls who are both removed but yet also acutely aware of their emotions is something to appreciate in character development in and of itself. It was refreshing and almost satirical in that sense and is not very evident on screen aside from Wednesday Addams or Cersei Lannister.

Thoroughbreds showcases a smart character foil that is both intriguing and entertaining.  Cooke and Taylor deliver strong, chameleon like performances that carry the otherwise spotty premise. Finley constructs a fresh teenage sociopathy tale with Hitchcockian elements that create a morbidly enjoyable atmosphere anyone with a dark sense of humor and appreciation for classic horror can enjoy.

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