Basically, what you get with Cory Finley’s film is sardonic teens, thumping drums, insanely lavish Connecticut homes and a noirish murder plot. Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.
“Thoroughbreds” began life as a play, and that background is visible throughout its brief, taut running time; there’s an arch sparseness to it that feels theatrical. Two deadpan Connecticut teens — wealthy Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), not-quite-so-wealthy Amanda (Olivia Cooke) — connect over their shared dislike of Lily’s creepy stepfather (Paul Sparks), who stalks around the family mansion in his zip-up vest looking threatening. “You ever think of just killing him?” asks Amanda, in her flat, stretched-out tone. The soundtrack thumps, ominously.
And that’s basically what you get with Cory Finley’s film: sardonic teens, thumping drums, insanely lavish Connecticut homes (Lily’s house features, along with many other things, a giant outdoor chess set), and a noirish murder plot. It’s all played as very dark satire, with Cooke and Taylor-Joy deliberately intoning all their lines as they move through the house’s endless hallways, or stand in eerily frozen deadpan. We learn, gradually, of a terrible incident in Amanda’s past involving horses (thanks to all the theatricality in the air, I kept thinking of “Equus”). And we watch as the girls go through the motions of a murder plot, employing a local drug dealer, Tim (Anton Yelchin), who’s tasked with doing the dirty deed.
“Thoroughbreds” often feels like a very, very expensive B-movie, but it’s all reasonably watchable, thanks to the elegant cinematography and Cooke’s amusing way of playing teenage amorality. (While idly playing with that chess set, Amanda is fascinated by the horse.) And the presence of Yelchin, the young “Star Trek” actor who died in a freak accident in June 2016, makes the film unexpectedly moving. His performance, one of his last on screen, is funny — catch his sly reference to Amanda as “Swimfan over there” — and honest; his Tim, staring with horror at Amanda and Lily, is the only person in the film who can see them as they are. You can see how he wishes he couldn’t.
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★★ ½ “Thoroughbreds,” with Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks. Written and directed by Cory Finley. 90 minutes. Rated R for disturbing behavior, bloody images, language, sexual references, and some drug content. Several theaters.