AFI Fest Review: THOROUGHBREDS – Nay-saying

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

THOROUGHBREDS

Rated R, 90 minutes
Directed by: Cory Finley
Starring: Anya Taylor-JoyAnton YelchinOlivia Cooke, Paul Sparks

Upper crust, East Coast society is always in need of skewering. Old money people are typically abhorrent, hiding their disdain for the lower classes behind heaps of charitable donations, haughty attitudes and inflated egos. Attempting deeply judgmental commentary on the 1%, but instead tapping into a dry, shallow well is writer-director Cory Finley’s THOROUGHBREDS. It works overtime, pushing the darkly comedic overtones and unnerving nature of the narrative, leaving no room for it to get there organically. A wannabe BRICK mixed with CRUEL INTENTIONS, Finley’s feature relies on quirk for quirk’s sake.

Connecticut preppy Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) has been hired as an exam prep tutor for troubled, sociopathic teen Amanda (Olivia Cooke). Amanda has no friends after her mercy-killing-turned-inhumane-slaughter of her beloved champion horse. Not only do the two estranged pals rekindle their long lost friendship, they hatch a plan to solve their current predicaments – Amanda’s nihilistic contempt for socialite living, and Lily’s hatred of her disciplinarian step-father Mark (Paul Sparks, a.k.a. that boring guy Claire schtupped on HOUSE OF CARDS). Showing no empathy for anyone, the terrible twosome blackmail a struggling drug dealer (Anton Yelchin) into their scheme, but don’t follow through with the blackmail. John Hughes would not recognize this brat pack.

Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy in THOROUGHBREDS. Courtesy of Focus Features.

Finley’s depth is puddle deep. This one is so chilly, it leaves you ice cold. He relies very heavily on the JAWS/ Alfred Hitchcock supposition that what’s scarier is what’s left unseen. Though this is very true, the problem is the audience can already sense where these indelible images are leading them. It’s clear from the first moments when you see Amanda and her horse sharing an uncomfortable silence, cutting to a shot of her taking a knife out of her satchel, all the way through to the inevitable bloody climax, where the audience hears the actions then sees the blood on a character’s white sweater. It’s utterly predictable. Hearing the grisly details of Amanda’s horse’s death doesn’t add anything that hasn’t been demonstrated in prior scenes. Her deadpan delivery of this dialogue is redundant; Amanda has already shown her callous, unrepentant, unfeeling motives. It’s there purely for the gross-out factor. Plus, we’ve seen this story line done before. It’s well-trodden territory.

Production, art, costume and sound design all earn top marks, but don’t add much to the superficiality of this piece as a whole. We can see thematic ties to the horse motif woven throughout; teens are like wild stallions in need of breaking. Composer Erik Friedlander’s percussive beats are indeed off-settling, but when it leans full-tilt into a sort of tribal-influence, it might lose some viewers. When all is said and done, this one should be sent to the glue factory.

Grade: D+ 

THOROUGHBREDS played AFI Fest on November 12 and 14. It opens on March 9, 2018.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.