“The only thing worse than being incompetent or unkind or evil is…indecisive”
This is a modern psychological drama at its finest. On the surface, Thoroughbreds might be seen as a new twist on American Psycho, but in my view, there are several distinguishing aspects that make it a completely different experience. From the uniquely off-putting music to the eerily funny characters, Thoroughbreds might focus on the psychology of the upper-class elite, but this is a film that is wholly engrossing to watch.
One of the most surprising traits for Thoroughbreds is the great moments of black comedy. This took me off guard because, for most of the film, I’m examining the relationship of two upper-class teenagers who are focused on darker aspirations and have nothing to do with being funny. But because one is completely emotionless and the other is not, the dynamic between the two makes for some humorously bleak interactions. This works since the emotionless character does not care what the other says about them and champions the idea of brutal honesty no matter what. Which juxtaposes greatly to her counterpart who’s afraid to speak her mind truthfully and when they both do so, it creates wonderfully witty jests of black comedy.
To construct two characters in this way signals to me that this film has a great writer. And reading that this was the first-time feature by writer Cory Finley who also directed the film, I’m even more impressed. This is to say that seeing his talent as a playwright to screenwriter isn’t necessarily a major feat because I’m already expecting him to be able to write. But to have the adept skills and vision to translate the story to film, especially since he was initially thinking it would be more suitable for the stage, is where the impressiveness of it comes into play. After reading interviews with him, I’m glad Cory Finley could see the increase in the number of levers the film format could offer him, as he really utilized several interestingly different aspects to bring his story to light.
The first of which is the use of unique music. From the plucking of violin strings to the timed and menacing beats of a bass drum, the soundtrack fitted perfectly to produce such an off-putting vibe. This makes complete sense given one of the characters is the personification of such a feeling, but also because many of the scenes work around exploring the darker aspects of their psychic so the pairing of aural to visual themes matched very well. I should also add that there were a few inserts of popular pieces of modern music which added further use in terms of a comedic tone. I’m referring to a great scene when the song ‘Ava Maria’ is used, because the way the story is built up to that moment and then introduces the song, is simply hilarious.
Everything about this film exuberates a sense of ownership and has a truly unique style. From a shot perspective, Cory Finley outdid himself with a flair for using a variety of camera techniques and an understanding of how to set up a scene depending on the tone he wanted. From the use of tracking shots, to the different ways actors were framed and the interesting blocking of characters, all approaches made me interested to see what this director will do next. It showed me a sign of a competent director who understands what he wanted from each scene in terms of style but more importantly tone, which is an aspect I can evidently see that he gave focus to.
I want to mention the great performances from the three leads, Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, and the late Anton Yelchin, for which Thoroughbreds was also his last film. Each of them worked nicely supporting each other, particularly with the dynamic of the two teenagers but also the refreshing burst of sympathy Anton Yelchin’s character brought. I must also highlight Olivia Cooke’s portrayal stood out for me amongst the rest as I thought she really sold the delivery for an emotionless figure who also had a level-headedness about her but in a dark way.
If you couldn’t tell already, I loved this film and I’ll be recommending it for you to find and watch. There are enough layers and levels for anyone who wanted to analyze these characters but to also just simply be engrossed by its unique presentation. From the dark comedy to the psychological thriller aspects, Thoroughbreds has wonderful panache about it and I can’t wait to see what it’s in-store for this director next. Watch it if you’re a fan of American Psycho, but don’t expect it to be anything like that as it’s completely different in its own right. See it.