Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke in Thoroughbreds

Hollywood doesn’t really do nasty. On the rare occasions it does, there’s always some handy switch-back, or last minute reprieve or redemption or moralistic salve to help alleviate any potential suffering on the part of the viewer. Perhaps this is why Michael Haneke’s American remake of his own Funny Games, a scathingly ironic satire on the seductive nature of screen violence, crashed and burned.

We like to see people torching insects with a well-placed magnifying glass, but we need to learn why they’re an awful person for doing so. Yet you spend the length of Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds watching as the plane plummets into the ravine, waiting, waiting, waiting for it to pull up and for everyone on board to be saved. And it simply refuses to go there.

In Connecticut’s frou-frou suburban nirvana of stucco mansions, gas barbecues and dads who play extreme sports, something wicked is brewing. Anya Taylor-Joy’s Lily has been asked to give Olivia Cooke’s Amanda some private tuition, and from the o there’s a cut-glass tension between the terrible twosome. The former is a prim, disillusioned queen bee who is suffering at the hands of her meddling, energy shake-chugging step father and cowering doormat mother. The latter is a socially maladjusted ‘trouble student’ who made something of a name for herself when she, err, went a bit mad and butchered a racehorse.


Scaberous dialogue exchanges are the lifeblood of their initial meetings, though neither party is willing to give in to the other. Soon they realise that perhaps there’s a dark connection drawing them closer, and that they could do some real damage if they put their heads together. Debutant writer/director Finley offers few sentimental concessions to his Wednesday Addams-like leads, and we only remain on their side by dint of the satellite characters being even more venal and revolting.

When a casual decision is made to plot a murder, it barely raises an eyebrow, as these women appear not only born to kill, but also born to get away with it. Anton Yelchin’s Tim is their patsy, a burnout drug dealer who is convinced that big-time prosperity is but a hop and skip away. Desperate to assert his faux macho posturing over the younger women, they play him for the schmuck he is in order to see through their own dastardly scheme. Finley never overtly states his themes, despite the fact that the film appears as a broad critique of the unchecked power wielded by the more affluent among us.

When you have everything, it’s difficult to know what more you could want, and so Thoroughbreds suggests that desire starts to naturally creep towards deeply anti-social terrain. Taylor-Joy and Cooke make for a cosy match, both convincingly lost in the moral tundra and unwilling to mope about the fact. The at compositions within Lily’s gigantic home (where much of the film takes place) makes it look immaculately tidy to the point that no one actually lives there. A massive amount of space reveals no material trinkets to o er signs of human life.

Like Funny Games, this might prove too barbaric to connect with a broad audience, but as a glassy-eyed shocker with true crime trappings, it goes down a chilly treat.

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By David Jenkins

April 3, 2018 at 04:04AM
via Little White Lies