You cannot hesitate. The only thing worse than being incompetent, or being unkind, or being evil, is being indecisive.The most misanthropic black comedy/thriller this side of Fincher (assuming such straightforward genre descriptors apply), Thoroughbreds chronicles the renewal of friendship between two wealthy teenagers so distanced from the world they only object to murder for such mundane reasons as the possibility of getting caught or the act not having sufficient meaning.
Coming from Amanda (Olivia Cooke), this is somewhat unsurprising; she claims to feel no emotions, ever, and has merely become adept at faking them. She's currently awaiting trial for animal cruelty after she euthanized her own horse with a knife. Her psychologist's evolving diagnoses appear random at best. A casual attitude toward murder is a bit more surprising from Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), who seems to be driven purely by emotion. But she seems every bit as lacking in empathy as Amanda, if not more so; she lies constantly to everyone, including herself, to justify her polite but quietly cruel actions. Amanda may suggest the murder of Lily's stepfather Mark (Paul Sparks) to deal with the ways he annoys Lily, but it's Lily who keeps pushing for it, and Amanda who would rather not. Either way, they rope unkempt drug dealer Tim (the late, great Anton Yelchin) into aiding them; poor Tim, awful though he is, quickly learns he has no idea who he's dealing with.
The complex friendship between Amanda and Lily is incredibly fun to watch, even as it spirals into low-key horror. Amanda's bluntly honest, deadpan reaction to everything is, by turns, funny, sad, provocative, and frightening; she's a living Kuleshov effect. Lily's complete lack of self-awareness and sense of superiority make her dangerously unpredictable, all the more so because her surface relatability and politeness make her seem less unstable. Cooke and Joy convey bottomless ennui with enough energy and humor to make it entertaining rather than off-putting; they're so engaging it's a disappointment when the movie ends because it's strangely enjoyable to spend time with these awful, awful humans, at least when they're hanging out with each other.
The unifying thread of these characters, ultimately, is their failure to truly connect with other humans. Mark is kinda dickish, getting increasingly disinterested in even trying to be nice to his stepdaughter as she goes off the rails (Lily's mother says Mark has tried to reach out to her, but if this was ever true, that time has passed), but the girls essentially jump to murder without a second thought. Lily's initial motivation seems to be simply annoyance and discomfort, which only escalates when it appears her privileged lifestyle may be in partial jeopardy, but even this is long past her decision. She has no compunction about throwing Amanda under the bus, and Amanda doesn't particularly seem to mind, just finding it interesting. Their wealth and privilege certainly seem to contribute to this abyss of disaffection, but Tim's not exactly a model human himself. In the final scene, the film's misanthropic vision hits full force, suggesting that the increasingly disconnected humanity is driving to a whimper of an extinction, and this is probably a good thing.
First-time writer-director Cory Finley shows an impressive ability to juggle tones, combining humor and suspense in a quietly strange environment. The music is often off-putting, reflecting the confused, distant moods of the heroines. The last act is a bit frustratingly abrupt, but this remains an impressive display of filmmaking craft, and an enjoyable time for those who enjoy such sarcastic, offbeat, mean-spirited darkness.
Director: Cory Finley
Producers: Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, Kevin J. Walsh, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Writers: Cory Finley
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief violence
Box Office: A limited release is crawling toward $3 million.