Thoroughbreds film review: High-class brutality

Thoroughbreds, photo courtesy Focus Pictures
Thoroughbreds, photo courtesy Focus Pictures /

Living a life of wealth and privilege doesn’t always guarantee perfect results for the next generation. Some wealthy children end up becoming child proteges, others abandon their life of luxury for something more simple. In the case of Cory Finley’s feature film directorial debut, Thoroughbreds, wealthy breeding creates potential sociopaths.

More from Movies

The line between the middle and high-class sections of American society isn’t always the subject of attention when discussing issues of class in America. The low class’s differences with the wealthy are often the subject of ‘fight the power’ films, acting as empowerment films for the lower class, in place of genuine studies behind the structure of class-related tension. Cory Finley doesn’t quite construct his debut feature film, Thoroughbreds, in the same vain as those other films. In fact, it’s difficult to truly put into words exactly what this film is.

Thoroughbreds, starring Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy and the late Anton Yelchin in one of his final roles filmed before his death in 2016, is less of a glorification of the lower-to-middle class, being substituted for an in-depth look at the toxicity of living a pampered life and the ultimate disconnect stemming from class differences. The concept itself doesn’t appear to lend to comedy looking from the distance, but somehow, Thoroughbreds is classified as a slick, dark crime comedy, juggling multiple genres to create a wholly unique story. Does the unique story hold up well as a final product?

Thoroughbreds, photo courtesy Focus Pictures
Thoroughbreds, photo courtesy Focus Pictures /

You Hate Him

As if the sharply edited trailer for the film wasn’t enough of an indication for a wild ride, Thoroughbreds begins its narrative with one of our co-leads, Amanda (Ready Player One‘s Olivia Cooke), prepping tools for an apparently horrible thing to happen to her horse, bursting through the opening with disturbing intensity in its lack of context and randomness. The next time we see Amanda, she appears healthy and well, not showing any emotional side-effects to the night with her horse. She’s just casually walking around the expensive home of her formerly close friend, Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), a school protege with an extreme distaste for her moody stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks). When Lily’s distaste grows into pure hatred, the two conspire to murder him, setting in stage a wicked, evil and hilariously disturbing crime comedy in the process.

The film’s story opts to not focus on Amanda and Lily’s plot to murder Mark so much, instead letting the audience absorb the lives of the two girls in the structure of classic chapters. While it may be an homage to writer/director Cory Finley’s theater background, the split chapters are also dedicated to showcasing the private lives of Amanda and Lily, slowly building up the tension while letting the audience observe two girls and their reactions to the environment they live in. I’m not joking when I say that some of the most tense scenes in the film involve seemingly simple sequences like walking downstairs in one long take and a particularly showing sequence in a pool.

Thoroughbreds is a story led by two damaged and near-irredeemable characters and its their gradual unfolding that heightens the stakes of the film, making for a slow, but nonetheless entertaining and gripping watch.

Thoroughbreds, photo courtesy Focus Pictures
Thoroughbreds, photo courtesy Focus Pictures /

You Despise Him

What makes this otherwise disturbing look at the ugliness of privileged angst such an entertaining and compelling watch are the lead performances from Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy. These girls, whom both display incredibly wicked sides of themselves, play their characters as sort of opposites on the same coin, reaching the end of the spectrum in terms of their darkness and ideologies.

Amanda is a girl who claims to feel no emotions whatsoever. She will often voice her opinions and words in such a blank, somewhat cynical tone, seeming content with her lack of emotion. Despite her performance being mostly stilted, awkward and alien-like, Cooke carries herself with an awkward humanity, displaying just enough for audiences to make a connection. Her solo scenes involving admirable, but mostly in vain, attempts at showing any sort of emotion in the mirror are quirky, charming and extremely telling of the troubled mindset of one half of Thoroughbreds‘ leading ladies.

Speaking of ladies with troubled mindsets, we get the ying to Amanda’s yang, Lily, played by Taylor-Joy. Lily, from the outside, has the appearance of the perfect girl: good looks, a learning internship and a wealthy home, not to mention a comfortable source of income from her mother and step-father.

Lily starts off as the stuck-up rich girl all of us may or may not have encountered at least once in our lives. But the growing disapproval and hate for her stepfather slowly tips Lily’s true mindset, happily joining up with possible sociopath, Amanda, to put an end to her stepfather’s life. The two girls, vastly different in their social status, find a grim solace in this deadly collaboration, bringing about Lily’s sinister intentions and the true nature of her emotions. One feels nothing, one feels everything, together making a toxic combination to lead the altogether toxic Thoroughbreds.

Lastly, we have the late Anton Yelchin shining in his final role in a movie, boldly entering the fray as a motor-mouthed, but ultimately pathetic drug dealer hired by Amanda and Lily for the murder plot. Though his role is (unfortunately) limited, Yelchin proves to be something of a necessary foil for Amanda and Lily, measuring up as a questionable, but incredibly observational man. He doesn’t get introduced into Thoroughbreds right away, but his surprising sense of humanity and logic within this insane murder caper is both refreshing to watch when being compared to the darker leads, but bittersweet, knowing that Yelchin will not be able to appear again in a film. What a note to go out on, as Yelchin proves exactly why he was one of the most talented actors of his generation.

You Ever Think About Just Killing Him?

Thoroughbreds, photo courtesy Focus Pictures
Thoroughbreds, photo courtesy Focus Pictures /

Cory Finley’s tale of high-class brutality is unique not only in the performances given from the game cast and the sharp and complex writing, but the technical aspects that serve to heighten the drama, while showcasing his own skills as a director. Finley has his actors play around with the silence, using it as an opportunity to focus the audience’s gaze on specific details in the film or the awkward silence that occurs in conversations. When Amanda and Lily first converse at the start, it’s done so with next to no musical score, allowing the characters to freely express themselves AS characters, setting the stage for the next scene, as well as the rest of the film.

Also unique to Thoroughbreds is the eerie musical score by Erik Freidlander, whose score plays up the elegant nature of the film’s setting, but simultaneously heightens the dread of the situation. The elegance and eerie elements of the music often coincide with one another, almost as if to say that something is not quite right, even during scenes of people walking. The sudden booming of drums that occur at a couple of points in the film, including one walking sequence, reveal the reckless nature of the situation, playing a part in even the most mundane of scenes.

LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 09: (L-R) Actress Olivia Cooke, director Cory Finley and actress Anya Taylor-Joy attend the International Premiere of ‘Thoroughbreds’ during the 61st BFI London Film Festival on October 9, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for BFI)
LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 09: (L-R) Actress Olivia Cooke, director Cory Finley and actress Anya Taylor-Joy attend the International Premiere of ‘Thoroughbreds’ during the 61st BFI London Film Festival on October 9, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for BFI) /

If ever Thoroughbreds suffers in its presentation, it’s in its occasionally stylistic moments, often taking precedence over the substance of the scene itself. Finley’s direction will often have the girls act in manners that don’t seem to fully fit their characters, such as Amanda’s one scene of her staring into the bushes behind her house. Despite her proven nature to be as emotionless as possible, it’s still a little hard to believe that Amanda would honestly do this during her day, especially in a manner that is purposely comical. The style over substance criticism is strong with this and certain other aspects of the film, like some awkward writing moments towards the beginning and the forced awkwardness that accompanies it.


Thoroughbreds works finely as a drama about two girls torn apart by class and brought together under unfortunate circumstances. It works as a slow-burn crime thriller with disturbing social commentary on the evils of class prejudice and first-world problems. It works as an awkward black comedy that serves to make you laugh while being shocked at what you’re seeing onscreen. Cory Finley’s stellar debut works under all these categories, establishing itself as a rare gem of an art film. Thoroughbreds leaves the audience shocked, full of laughter and disturbed at what’s taking place and it does so with solid confidence and the works of a talented cast and crew to show for it.

Next: Love, Simon film review

From the eccentric, yet humanistic and darkly charming performances from Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy and Anton Yelchin to the stunning direction from Cory Finley to top-notch camerawork from Lyle Vincent to Erik Friedlander’s unnerving musical score, Thoroughbreds is a subtle attack on the senses, leaving a lot of breathing room before everything starts to get out of control. It may not be the most eventful film of the year, but it makes up for it by being one of the most telling and disturbing films to come out as of late. As it stands, Thoroughbreds has the makings of a future cult classic and it should find its way into many critics’ best of the year lists at the end of 2018.

Spoiler alert, it’ll be on mine as well.

Final Verdict: 9/10

Thoroughbreds is playing in theaters now.