“Empathy isn’t exactly your strong suit. But you’re great in other ways.”
Former best friends Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) are reunited after years of estrangement. They’re both rich teenagers living in an affluent neighbourhood and both of them find themselves different from everyone else. Amanda came to the realisation a few years ago that she is completely lacking in emotion and has been faking all her life. Lily finds herself despising her fitness obsessed stepfather.
As the two bond and share strategies for surviving in the world they are trapped in, they begin to plan a murder. The bond between the girls is the heart of the film and it is beautifully realised. Taylor-Joy and Cooke are incredible in the leads.
There’s something very charismatic about the strangeness of their interactions with each other and the world. It shifts from the comedic awkwardness of their early interactions and develops into a unique dependency. Lily is cold yet incredibly emotive. She is determined to take control of her own life at any cost, and it’s very difficult to decide how much of her is real. She is a wonderful duplicitous character.
Amanda on the other hand is fascinating for being completely without illusion. She has no emotions and is very blunt about it, yet she feels a connection to Lily. Lily’s rejection of her early in the film is the only thing that seems to phase her. In spite of how distant the girls are, there’s a lovely intimacy in their friendship. The cinematography captures as much, changing colour temperature and depth when the two are together.
Anton Yelchin appears as the cocky drug dealer who aspires to make something of himself, but is drawn into the girls’ scheme. Yelchin is wonderfully edgy in the role, recalling a young Ethan Hawke. This was Yelchin’s final film before his tragic death last year and it serves as a beautiful and devastating reminder of the sensitivity and depth he brought to his roles.
The equine element, as suggested by the title, manifests as a dark chapter in Amanda’s past but also as a metaphor for the girls. With their upper class breeding and the privileges they have, it seems that much is expected of them. Yet they have no direction and are unable to relate to other people. The parental figures offer terrible aspiration prospects, and so the murderous planning of the girls becomes a plot to reclaim control of their lives.
Thoroughbreds feels like a horror film. The camera stalks the ghostly pale girls through their modern gothic house, but the horror is actually inside of them. The horror is what they might be capable of, and just how far this disaffection and apathy goes. Some brilliant decisions are made regarding the grizzlier moments of the story. Much happens off screen, with the impact coming from character reactions.
The music is also excellent. Erik Friedlander’s bizarre score is a cacophonous experiment in staccato strings and drums that has a tribal feel to it. The effect is oppressive and invokes a sense of otherworldliness to the cold setting. It almost feels like sci-fi.
This is a character driven thriller of the highest quality. Behind the gorgeous style and captivating story is a very unique relationship between two very strong characters. It’s darkly funny, subtly frightening and profoundly sad. It is undoubtedly one of the finest films I have seen at the festival so far.