Debuting a new film is like having a horse in the stables, waiting for him to begin his race (but less barbaric then horse racing…Actually, maybe more so.) New movies are like a mane event that takes a lot of care and attention to grow. There’s training, practise, and determination to get in the stirrups; ready for it to giddy-up across the big screen. As a rider, or director, there is a a lot of passion when it comes to breeding your film in hopes it makes a pony or too.
That must be how it felt for debut feature director Corey Finley as he brings us the tantalising drama thriller Thoroughbreds.
The movie revolves around two teenagers, Amanda and Lily, childhood friends who are reunited when the former’s mother bribes Lily to tutor Amanda. Each girl has a history of issues: Lily is currently residing at home for mysterious reasons whilst Amanda has zero emotions, something she is ultimately candid about. Though it is an uneasy meet, the pair grow fond of one another (well, as fond as Amanda can be,) but soon a dark idea and sordid plan starts to wedge itself between them…
Spare me a couple of moments to be a little bit hyperbolic: Oldham superstar Olivia Cooke (a hometown hero,) and the incomparable Anya Taylor-Joy are perhaps the greatest young actresses in the industry right now and are also becoming memorable scream queens. Put them together in an engaging, debut indie thriller and you’ve got an engrossing depiction of disassociated tween psychopathy. It’s delicious.
Cooke’s role is that of a young woman devoid of feeling which makes her more intriguing. Cooke is clever enough to never mistakenly react, keeping her face sombre and interested like a snake rattling in the grass. Her tone is solemn but her words are electric, tackling society and people in moments and able to see passed day to day masquerades. The actress, seen most recently in equally glorious role The Limehouse Golem, allows Amanda to mimic but ultimately keeps her held back.
Anya Taylor-Joy is great. From The VVitch to Split, she has showcased her skill at doe-eyed heroines caught in a cycle of horror. But as Lily, she is a shape-shifter; overtly polite and friendly one minute to spoilt brat the next. Her life is altered by the presence of Amanda who allows her to be free to express to deepest, darkest elements of her soul – especially in relation to her stepfather. Taylor-Joy can both be emotive and devoid of all feeling when necessarily, making her character more unpredictable. The shift between the girls’ standing in the film – protagonist to antagonist, friend to foe – and the chemistry they have together electrifies the screen.
The movie also has one of the last performances of the late, great Anton Yelchin as a seedy criminal ensnared into their web and his presence here is a reminder of the man we lost so young and soon.
Finley’s work is intense and brilliant. There are masterful shots and scene set-ups here embellished with a unique score by Erik Friedlander. Though the story may not be to everyone’s tastes and it stretches on a little bit too long, Finley has finely tuned his debut to have a ferocious soul underneath with a quietly twisted finale that’ll ultimately engross you.
Thoroughbreds plays as part of BFI London Film Festival