My taste in film spreads wide — varying from gripping documentaries to topical comedies, good political dramas to ambitious animated features, and–of course–blockbusters. Granted, not all movies I watch fall into those categories; however, it is rare that I highly anticipate something not checked in one of those pre-set boxes.
Last year was a landmark year for film. I expected to enjoy such blockbusters as Avengers: Infinity War and Solo. But yet, there is always that one movie that shocks me because how much I loved it. To me, this is that diamond in the rough shining brighter and impressing more than the rest of the standard jewelry.
In this case, the movie this year that caught my heart was Thoroughbreds.
The film involves two girls, Lily (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (played by Olivia Cooke). The premise centers around Lily as she struggles with her decision to kill her stepfather Mark. Meanwhile, Amanda becomes Lily’s guiding light. Throughout the film, our two leads struggle with the concept of purpose, emotions, humanity, and ambition — topics many young people (including myself) contemplate every day.
Cory Finley crafts a film with his directorial and screenwriting debut that not only entertains, but is also thought-provoking and surprisingly topical. The way Finley conveys the film’s theme with two polarizing characters is brilliant. For most directors, it could have been easier to approach the film’s themes in a heavy-handed manner to be more “edgy.” Luckily, the movie’s purpose is handled with extreme care that would make the most skeptical viewer think long and hard about what they just watched.
Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance is one of great magnitude. Her emotional range is impeccable and goes to show why she’s one of the best young actresses in the business. She is, without a doubt, the emotional core of the film representing young people who are forced to grow up quickly when they get older. Lily seems to have everything a girl could want: fancy clothes, lives in a big house, spa weekends galore, and a stellar education. At first glance, she appears to be no different from being just another privileged white girl.
However, Lily has a deeper battle from within. Her constant struggle with morality is an interesting one considering how characters of her age and gender in film don’t go through these kinds of challenges typically.
In a scene where she and Amanda recruits drug dealer Tim (played by the late Anton Yelchin), she pulls his gun on him but doesn’t pull the trigger. When Amanda first proposes the idea of killing Mark, Lily becomes offended (despite hating him). She only wants what’s best for those around her. In fact, the only reason she wants her stepfather gone is because she wants her mother to be happy, and her stepfather’s death is the only way to achieve said happiness.
Lily’s story comes full circle at the end of the film. She drugs Amanda’s drink and plans on framing Mark’s murder on her. At first, she regrets that decision until Amanda drinks the whole thing and passes out. Lily runs upstairs and murders Mark (a scene we don’t see) and covers Amanda in blood when she comes back downstairs. She sleeps on Amanda’s lap and proceeds to cry, trying to come to terms with what she did.
Aside from Finley’s direction and writing, Erik Friedlander’s score (which is one of the best of the year, and that’s saying a lot) and Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance, the thing that makes Thoroughbreds such an amazing film is Olivia Cooke as Amanda.
Not since Kylo Ren from Star Wars: The Force Awakens have I been this fascinated by a film character. Her appeal as a character is from her function as a villain with an unlikely moral compass. After suggesting the idea of killing Mark to Lily, Amanda goes on a short diatribe about how human life isn’t sacred. If you think about it, despite being the only main character to classify as a “villain,” Amanda’s views make a bit of sense. If someone is evil, and you decide to defeat said evil, who is the enemy? The one who took action? Or the one born bad?
Amanda is at the center of another moral dilemma involving her horse. The beginning of the film opens with her killing her pet horse (a murder we don’t see) and is later revealed she did it because the horse was dying anyway. To her, killing the horse was an act of mercy. The idea of killing Mark is also an act of mercy, but not in the same way. Amanda has no real issue with Mark, and his only nemesis – so to speak – is Lily. The film even ends with Amanda smiling at a picture of her and Lily as children, showing her feeling better that Lily doesn’t have to suffer anymore.
Her moral code believes there are far worse things than being evil, like being indecisive. She breaks lamps on top of people’s heads, blackmails people to doing her bidding, and speaks of murder as if it’s no big deal. It’s crazy how in a world filled with people who don’t even know what to order at restaurants, there are some people who make up their minds easily with the hardest decisions.
But, is making up your mind for evil deeds as bad as not making up your mind to do anything?
It’s a shame this film hasn’t gotten as much attention as others released this year.
What makes Thoroughbreds such a great movie is that I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. I only ever had interest in this movie simply for the two lead actresses, but after watching it, I got so much more.
If anyone is looking for a simple, funny, and surprisingly intelligent film, Thoroughbreds is definitely worth checking out. Like me, once you make that decision, you will find one of 2018’s biggest surprises in a film you’d never expect.