By: Christian Harding (A Toast) –
“It’s only weird if you make it weird.”
If there’s one lesson we must all learn from the last year and a half of living through this particular period in American history, it’s that actually caring about other people and what happens to them is a sign of weakness, and that empathy gets you nowhere in life. Accumulating mass amounts of wealth can buy you almost anything – some would argue happiness itself being chief among them – but you simply can’t buy genuine feelings or emotions, no matter how much money you have. By association, if you insist on solving all of life’s most burdensome problems by throwing copious amounts of wealth at them, then deeply felt personal connections might also elude you.
Social commentary such as this and more populates the delightfully twisted dark comedy Thoroughbreds, the debut feature film by playwright turned filmmaker Cory Finley, who displays a firm, disciplined understanding of film language and aesthetics rarely seen in a first-timer. If anything, Thoroughbreds fulfills the role of this generation’s Heavenly Creatures, albeit less sensitive in its tone and significantly de-gayed (the queer elements are still there, but take the form of subtext and unspoken sensuality, where it actually works stronger in this case). It also occupies the same sub-genre of “emotionally detached, upper class young women try to get away with murder” that last year’s Lady Macbeth did, though this one accomplishes its goals in a much more organic and satisfying manner. One more way in which Thoroughbreds achieves even greater depth is by having the obvious sociopath at the center of the film ironically being the only truly good, morally consistent person throughout, amidst a sea of two-faced schmucks and false friends. Eat the rich, indeed.
The setup is as follows: Thoroughbreds centers on a pair of affluent young women, named Lily and Amanda. These two were formerly best friends back in their middle school years, but grew apart for initially unexplained reasons, which likely have something to do with Lily’s emotional neediness and Amanda’s naturally flat, seemingly emotionless affect. Upon their reunion, Amanda notices that Lily has a rocky, unconformable relationship with her new stepfather, to which Amanda suggests that Lily take care of the problem herself and eliminate him from the picture for good, which Lily is understandably horrified by… at first (dun dun DUN).
In order for a story such as this to become believable and maintain credibility, you need a cast full of talented young performers to help bring the material to life in a convincing way, and Thoroughbreds is no slouch in that department. It’s reported that this was the final film that young actor Anton Yelchin filmed before his untimely death back in the summer of 2016, and seeing his strong performance here further proves what a raw talent he truly was and how big of a loss to the film community his death was. Yelchin plays the role of Tim as an ambitious, but pathetic drug dealer who finds himself unwittingly caught up in Lily and Amanda’s murderous plot, and the role he ultimately fulfills (or doesn’t) in the final scheme of things is both satisfying and amusingly consistent with his character.
It boasts a refreshing new talent behind the camera and also succeeds in furthering the careers of the two great actresses at its center. It’s a slick, confident neo-noir that is at once clearly indebted to genre classics like Double Indemnity and Les Diaboliqes, but also manages to be its own unique standalone creation and stands out as one of the best films released in 2018 thus far.
Thoroughbreds (2017) Drinking Game
Do a Shot: every time Amanda or Lily uses “the technique”.
Do another Shot: whenever Amanda is brutally honest and/or socially awkward.
One more Shot: each time Lily’s attitude is fake and emotionally dishonest.
Shotgun a Beer: when a carefully placed piece of diegetic music highlights the underlying sensuality between Lily and Amanda.
Pour One Out: in memory of Anton Yelchin.