The world of Thoroughbreds consists of anonymous suburban mansions in Connecticut: spacious, immaculately designed, eerily empty, surrounded on all sides by acres of well-manicured grounds. Cory Finley’s debut film, a stylish, gripping yarn about two teenage girls who hatch a murder plot, wants the viewer to consider the environment around them. For all the fancy trimmings, it’s an entirely loveless place. So it’s no surprise that when Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) encounter a dilemma, their thoughts soon turn to homicide.
The problem is, Finley does such a complete job of building out the chilly milieu of Thoroughbreds that this clever thriller ends up being a smidge too sociopathic for its own good. To be sure, Thoroughbreds boasts an atmosphere so impassive that the film’s deadly Hitchcockian twists seem downright plausible. But I struggled to see the movie as anything but a ghoulish exercise, a taut 90 minutes that left me unmoved as its implicit violence became explicit. Perhaps that’s part of the idea—after all, the film’s central character says she can’t feel for anyone around her. But it also keeps Thoroughbreds from greatness.
Finley (who’s best known as a playwright) unfolds his plot and character backstories with precision. Amanda arrives at Lily’s house for tutoring, but it becomes clear that the two were once close friends until the vagaries of high school split them apart. Lily is put-together and popular, while Amanda is shabbily dressed and unshowered. Lily is clipped but polite, while Amanda is unfailingly blunt, remarking on the frightening scandal that got her ostracized in school (involving an alarming bit of animal cruelty) and the fact that Lily charged Amanda’s parents exorbitantly just to tutor her.