We associate sociopathic tendencies with the standard identifiers of lunacy, but what if lunacy is shrouded in beauty and the false appeal of approachability. Cory Finley’s “Thoroughbreds” does just that in his feature-length debut as a creator in which he dissects the possibility of the beautiful princesses of the West-Chester-like richness of Connecticut becoming the unpredictable monsters that poverty and illiteracy seem to correlate with. It’s the roughness of “Heathers” meeting the artistry of a film resembling Yorgos Lanthimos’ brilliance in which we meet two girls with battered backgrounds. One whose is unable to feel an emotion of any kind and another whose passion is compelling her to commit a heinous crime which creates a razor-sharp duo filled with uniqueness and intrigue.
Walking out of Cory Finley’s hypnotic dive into sociopathism, I had felt this feeling of a lack of emotional resonation. It’s a constant feeling that spurts around films that I appreciate and noticeably recognize their excellence, but I struggle to feel the reasons as to why. I find myself questioning the movie by asking was I bored? Did I care about the characters? Was this a good movie? Am I missing the point? What does all this mean? I walked out of the cinema with this impending confusion, but at the same time I couldn’t help but notice all of the things that I loved about Finley’s uninvesting examination of what it means to be a sociopath.
To read that introduction and to assume that I am clamoring that the ones who praise this movie as something spectacular are wrong would be an amiss assumption. It’s difficult to understand, even for myself. I can’t help but become perplexed by my feelings surrounding this particular movie, but to stray away from that subject, for the time being, let me focus on the aspects of the film that I thoroughly enjoyed. Beginning with the cinematography in which the visualization of the well-groomed lawns and perfectly tailored houses of the luxurious upstate Connecticut landscape that we find ourselves apart of can birth this theme of the misplaced worship of wealth.
The cinematography introduces this theme before any words can because that theme doesn’t settle in till it feels as if we're being toured through the secrets of coastal Connecticut mansions of prosperity. Not to mention, the cinematography is spellbindingly beautiful. The long pans throughout these mansions are one thing, but the quick-paced editing creates a tone of unease in which we struggle to decipher between the dark humor and the intense impendment of murder. It’s a constant turn of the hat in which we continually transition between tones in a way that is never disrupting, but rather it feels like we’re merely changing the volume on a dial to intensify the story.
The performances are sensationally void of emotion in which our characters struggle to ingest emotion into their actions because sentiment is something hard for them to grasp. Anya Taylor-Joy is able to depict a character that has shreds of emotion, but her negativity and lack of affection for those who tear her down leads to her rash decision making taking hold. Her performance is brilliantly paced as we can slowly see her willingness to fight off those horrible thoughts weakening with the continued influence from someone who lacks empathy and hatred. Then again, you can’t influence someone to that point. Ultimately, they have to make the final decision.
Olivia Cooke is the opposition to Joy’s character in which she is overwhelmed by her negative emotions, in fact, she’s never overcome by any emotion. She’s a mime of life that struggles to feel anything, which allows her to see life in a way that is bluntly objective. She’s continually pretending to be someone she’s not, so when someone embraces her robotic personality, she then begins to take the reigns of her emotional void. The girl who seems to be the innocently troubled girl is actually a good person, but someone we wouldn’t usually associate the words good or kind with because of her peculiar mindset.
Cooke’s performance reflects this in this invariably honest depiction that leads to some of the film’s best dark-humor of her bluntly answering questions that we expect empathy to be co-joined within delivery. It’s the classic humor of unexpected honesty. The equivalent of the joke in which someone tells a beautiful story about their grandma and then someone asks how she is and they directly answer “She’s dead.” Classic but effective.
Anton Yelchin's final on-screen performance is suitably understated in which he rarely appears on screen, but when he does, it’s something worth watching. The entertaining and tragically lost actor leaves us with a final performance that is worth mentioning. The screenplay is worth mentioning as well in which the story never manifests as much context as needed to create resonation with these characters. Though their performances are fantastic and their characters have themes hidden within them that I can noticeably praise, the context necessary for me to feel for their journey is never found.
The ending feels far too neat to match the build of tension in which I expected something to explode or give dramatically. It raises the question of if I am asking too much out of this film, but how can I be when I am lead to becoming invested in a storyline riched with enthrallment for an explosion of violence. We’re spending time into a storyline that is twiddling with the idea of how the perceived princesses of these proverbial self-financed monarchs could become monstrous killers. Is it the money? Is it the upbringing? Is it the friends that surround them? That is what Finley is analyzing, but he fails to include empathy or an ending worth the wait. Two fatal flaws that fit within the story, but bring this film down more than one notch for me.
As much as there is to praise about this film, there is nothing that makes this film worth watching again from an emotional standpoint which may be the point. Maybe emotion is supposed to be found within themes, and not within the characters. Perhaps I am reading this all wrong; maybe I am bullshitting my way through this review. Whichever answer it is, “Thoroughbreds” has a magnificently visualized and crafted story that lacks the emotional subtext to persuade me to watch again. Yet, I can’t say that this film is something not worth revisiting because Finley has crafted a film that will be far more praised than vilified for a reason.
Is it relatable? No, but it's noticeably constructed with excellence which provides enough of an investment for me to watch at least once. The neatly tied ending is a bit upsetting, but I could either pick a fight or find a new hill to die on and there are more prominent hills worth dying upon on is the conclusion that I came too. “Thoroughbreds” raises a prominent question for myself though, in which how can you rave about a movie if you don’t feel it? Isn’t that what this is all about?