Thoroughbreds

Young playwright Cory Finley writes and directs his first feature, and it was a long shot that paid off big for those that bet on this filly…err…Finley. It’s a sharp, edgy, thought-provoking film that my wife and I enjoyed watching, and discussing on the way home from the Reading Town Square theatre.

Amanda is played by Olivia Cooke, who was the dying girl in one of favorite movies of 2015 — Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. In the beginning of this film, she stares into the face of a horse before picking up a knife. We then see her at a Connecticut mansion, waiting for Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy from Split and The Witch) an old friend from elementary school. Turns out Amanda’s mom paid Lily to befriend her again, under the ruse of being her tutor. We soon see why, and strangely enough, they actually become friends. I think. They’ve both got some issues, but they start hanging out and watching old movies together. They have a bad case of rich-girl problems. For example, the stepdad (Paul Sparks) likes to use a rowing/exercise machine that makes an annoying sound on the ceiling above them. What’s a girl to do? Well, she can hire a local drug dealer (Anton Yelchin in his last film role) to perhaps…talk some sense into the guy.

Yes, this delves into the Heathers, Heavenly Creatures, and even Wild Things territory. It’s like if Mean Girls went noir.

In Mean Girls, they got caught writing a “burn book” with nasty things about other students. In this, Lily was plagiarizing an essay and is going to be sent to a boarding school. Of course, she’s having none of it.

Perhaps Amanda will be able to help her with this dilemma. After all, she came up with an interesting way to help her prized horse that had a broken leg.

You know how in movies and plays when a character dies, you sometimes stare at them to see if you can see their stomach move as they’re still breathing? In this, I kept watching Cooke, to see if she’d ever break from her deadpan cadance. She told Lily that she has no emotions, so when her friend utters something rude to her, I wanted to see just a hint of anger; other times, I looked for a slight smile. Nope. She was perfect deadpan in the role, and it was a bit reminiscent of Me and Earl. Since she was dying in that, even when she was hanging out with her new friend, she never seemed all that happy.

Taylor-Joy is very emotional, and even her huge eyes seem to do some acting. Her voice and facial expressions reminded me of Emma Stone. In one nice subtle touch, she was wearing a bejeweled “wasp” around her neck. That’s one wasp that probably has a mighty sting if provoked.

There’s such depth to these two characters, and it’s just fascinating watching them. It’s not the typical teenage stereotypes, and it becomes an interesting black comedy.

This isn’t just a look at two sociopathic teens. We get an aspiring “entrepreneur” played by Yelchin, that reminded me of the misfit characters Steve Zahn often plays. It’s a smaller part, but he’s dynamite. When he initially crashes a teenage party, it’s the type of thing we’ve seen before. He waxes poetic about life, while a little stoned. When he walks into a mansion, with his jaw dropping to the floor (and an opera playing in his head), it’s hysterical. When the girls try to blackmail him, his responses show he’s not just a dope on dope.

There’s also an ominous sounding score by Erik Friedlander that reminded me a bit of Greenwood’s stuff in There Will Be Blood, with a touch of The Shining.

And the use of the song “Dancing in the Moonlight” — so fun in Guardians of the Galaxy, and interesting to see featured in the documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World...was used splendidly here.

Cinematographer Lyle Vincent deserves credit for some great shots in closed quarters, and on the set of a movie that probably had a rather small budget and limited locations.

Two filmmakers I love were producers on this — Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, who gave us The Descendants and The Way Way Back. I’d love to find out how they got involved in this intriguing story.

It’s just hard to imagine how such evil girls could also be so endearing.

With the three outstanding performances in this movie…Thoroughbreds is a trifecta that pays off handsomely.

4 stars out of 5.