“Thoroughbreds”

 

            Two childhood friends, who used to go horseback riding together as little girls, since grown apart.  Both come from affluence.  Amanda (Olivia Cooke) got herself in trouble, and dropped out of school, so she needed tutoring, and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) was the logical choice.  She's home from boarding school, on an internship, before college enrollment.  It appears that Amanda is the needy one and Lily is the one who has her act together, but appearances can be deceiving.

            The tutoring sessions quickly lose their focus as Lily seems somehow nervous and condescending at the same time.  Amanda is smart enough to know the answers, but also perceptive enough to ascertain that Lily's heart isn't in it.  That's OK, they can just hang out for a while, like they used to do.  Their Moms don't seem to mind.  They watch old movies and make comments about the characters' performances. (An ironic thing to do because we're watching a movie watching them watching a movie.)

            We get to meet Lily's creepy stepdad, Mark (Paul Sparks), who seems both imperious and hateful.  His relationships with Lily's Mom is obviously strained, though she's apparently enjoying the fact that his money enables her to live a life of leisure---expensive spas and tanning beds and hired help doing their household chores. 

            But the house, though opulent and elegant, is also empty of emotion and devoid of any milk of human kindness.  And we're not feeling any from Lily, either, as she makes it clear to Amanda that she hates her stepdad.  Amanda, we learn, is suffering from some disassociative disorder that makes her unable to feel anything.  She says she got really good at faking emotions that she thought she was supposed to have, generally matching other people's, but she's since admitted to herself that they're not genuine.  She's in therapy for it, but mostly her therapists listen to her, say “Hmm,” write something down, and then give her meds.  Which she's not that interested in taking, because she wants to feel like herself---that is, with generally no feelings at all.  When she listens to Lily complain bitterly about her stepdad, Amanda asks Lily why she doesn't just get rid of him.  At first, she appears to be incensed by the very suggestion.  But later, she broaches the subject again, this time more seriously.

            They go to a party one night---which is the only time we see anybody else their age.  They meet Tim (Anton Yelchin, in his last movie role before his death in a car accident), a local small-time drug dealer.  He's not exactly a likeable character, but they think he might be useful to them.  So they manipulate him---they claim they want to buy some recreational drugs from him.  Then they record the conversation on a cell phone, knowing that he's already on probation and if they turn him in he'll go to prison.  So now they have him where they want him.  And what they want him to do is help them get rid of the problem of Lily's stepdad.

            No, things don't go according to plan.  And when they don't, we're not real sure where this is headed, which is the primary interest in this quiet, solemn, bare-bones indie film that seems to enjoy long silences, a small cast, and eerie background music.   It's not for everyone.  But it's definitely a change from the usual Hollywood formulas.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association