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In one of the best directorial debuts in recent memory, Corey Finley crafts a visceral, anxious, teenage dark comedy with Thoroughbreds. Supported by phenomenal performances from Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, and the late Anton Yelchin, along with fluid cinematography by Lyle Vincent and a forceful score put together by Erik Friedlander, Thoroughbreds is an intense film that is horrific as it is humorous.
The most outstanding element in Thoroughbreds is the score. There is an almost ASMR stroke within it as it employs intense breathing and a primal human voice to enhance its influence. Friedlander creates an audacious and tense work that haunts the film and fills it with life. These unique instrumentals are the pulse of the story, rising, quickening, and shifting with the characters in a balanced, hypnotic dance.
In the film’s opening segments, we follow Amanda (Cooke), exploring Lily’s (Taylor-Joy) extravagant suburban mansion. She finds an envelope stuffed with money, a picture of a young Lily smiling on horseback, and glorified shots of Lily’s step-father with his exotic trophy kills. During this scene, the score is a creaky, careful, unsettling force that reveals all the excess and baroque contained within the house.
The score is distinct in its jarring juxtaposition of imagery, themes, and audio. Visually, the world is crisp, clear, and otherwise ‘perfect’. To put it lightly, Lily’s mansion is excessive—a tennis court, massive outdoor chess set, tanning bed—and these are just the things we actually see on screen. Lily’s life should be great and she knows it, but her happiness is crippled by a wicked hatred for her stepfather. This element of the film eventually materializes, but is first witnessed through the camera’s discreet deconstruction of Lily’s words.
Lily’s stepfather is a force of cruelty. He stands in complete opposition to Lily and Amanda’s friendship. He is a rock in Lily’s shoe, an unsettling evil dwelling within the house.
Both girls deal with issues specific to their worlds and the score mends the void between them. Its ugly and unsettling, yet completely fitting for what is really happening under the guise of this suburban paradise. Through their friendship, Lily and Amanda are able to find what they truly need. At its core, Thoroughbreds is about the dynamics of their unusual relationship, a fact that Finley’s camera never allows us to forget .
The story was originally conceived as a stage play, but later evolved into a feature film. This creates an interesting element regarding setting, giving attention to locations that are almost equally important as the main characters. There are a few times that Lily steps foot out of her secure home, but when she does, she is overcome by the ‘real world.’ A good example is found during a high school party, where Lily meets Tim (Yelchin). It is chaotic, fierce, and terrifying, but Finley’s script and talented directing fully immerse us in the environment the scene, communicating many of Lily’s complex emotions bubbling beneath the surface.
The film still relies on a sort of stage play approach, using camera angles and certain stylistic choices to keep the audience rooted to one place while other things happen off-screen. This is most apparent in the film’s climax, where we are left on the couch with a sleeping Amanda.
Thoroughbreds is a film best enjoyed with as much immersion as possible, blasting the soundtrack on high and allowing the lush cinematography to envelope you. It is a black comedy that shows the depravity of humans and the savagery that can grow from the most unlikely places. Thoroughbreds is a masterful film that exaggerates teen angst and pushes it to extreme levels, ultimately creating something magical, surreal, strange, and downright wonderful.
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