Thoroughbreds: Animal Kingdom, by David Bax
Horses are beautiful. They’re big, muscular and intimidating, yet they’re as delicately graceful as dancers. And those eyes. Black pools beneath which could be lurking deep contemplation or maybe nothing at all. They are transfixing animals. Don’t take my word for it. At the beginning of Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds, a thorny siren song of a movie, Amanda (Olivia Cooke) stares unblinking at her family’s horse, Honeymooner. The pairing makes for an unsubtle comparison—very little about Thoroughbreds is subtle and that’s not a complaint. Young women like Amanda, raised in total privilege in toniest Connecticut are practically equine themselves. Breeding has made them beautiful objects but there’s no telling what’s churning inside them. Although Honeymooner’s eventual (and mercifully offscreen) fate may give you some idea in Amanda’s case.
Our story picks up when Amanda shows up at the incomprehensibly lavish home of Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), a classmate who will be tutoring her in preparation for college applications. Over the course of the movie (which is separated into chapters for some reason), the frustrated Lily and the emotionless Amanda will find a balance in one another that turns deadly once they decide the best thing for everyone would be for them to murder Lily’s stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks).
What follows is spare and languid yet delectably tense. Thoroughbreds oozes dark potent as much as it does bilious comedy. Nothing in the film exemplifies this blend more than Erik Friedlander’s choice score, the percussiveness of which is the kind of foreboding you can dance to.
Amanda and Lily’s plan really takes off when they cross paths with Tim (the late Anton Yelchin), a dishwasher, bottom-scraping drug dealer and aspiring crime kingpin whom they enlist to carry out the homicide. Yelchin’s scummy desperation is the perfect comic foil to Cooke’s and Taylor-Joy’s steely resolve. It’s another painful reminder of how much we will miss out on after Yelchin’s early death. All of the actors, though, fit perfectly and often quite amusingly into this small cast, rounded out by Sparks’ supercilious fitness freak of a stepdad.
Clearly Finley has some opinions about the way that sociopathy takes root in the cloistered and coddled upper crust. Amanda and Lily are taking a shortcut to their goals without regard to the consequences for others, up to and including the potential murder victim. Luckily for us, Thoroughbreds is not designed to belabor this point. This societal ill merely exists as a breeding ground for the movie’s intoxicating depravity.
In fact, if this were some kind of morality play, it would be a disingenuous one. The reason the movie is such an irresistible poison apple is that Finley is fully aware of how alluring this world is. The house itself, from its perfect green lawn to the flawlessly appointed foyer to luxury car in the driveway, is essentially a fetish object. And where exactly is the line, the movie asks, between materialism and fetishism? If your identity is defined by the things you own, how much of your soul do you relinquish to them? Cinematographer Lyle Vincent divides the room and the frame into hushed and individually lit partitions, like objects in the museum of a secret society. Thoroughbreds understands that, to more of us than would like to admit it, the most important things are those with which we adorn ourselves. A shiny laptop, a fetching tent dress, a Damascus steel kitchen knife, blood.