Those familiar with the affluent culture of suburban Connecticut depicted in “Thoroughbreds” are sure to recognize the culture that writer and director Cory Finley is simultaneously satirizing and deconstructing.
At a school like NYU, the reaches of wealth can be felt from Lipton Residence Hall to Gould Plaza, which makes the sting of Finley’s “Heathers”-meets-David Fincher film that much more paralyzing and hilarious at every turn.
At the center of every frame in “Thoroughbreds” — shot exquisitely by Lyle Vincent — are Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke), two girls scheming to murder the former’s stepdad Mark, played by Tisch alumnus Paul Sparks. Lily is an outcast with a controversial past who has reconnected with her best friend Amanda, whose life seems picturesque and perfect on the surface but in reality is anything but.
As an English native, Cooke’s American accent is droll and captivating, each line delivered more snidely and hauntingly than the last. Taylor-Joy’s Lily is played with a broken intensity that continually escalates until its peak at the film’s climax, which plays out in a quiet single take that this reviewer still hasn’t been able to fully shake.
First-time director Cory Finley shows a mastery of tone and genre not usually found in debuts. There is a confidence in the way he moves his camera and lingers on his subjects — it promises more mean, lean and unforgettable works like “Thoroughbreds” in the future.
It’s hard not to feel a tinge of sadness while watching the film’s supporting actor Tim — played by the late Anton Yelchin — chew up scenery as a burnout drug dealer, knowing that this may be the last time we get to see his talents on-screen.
Yet “Thoroughbreds” has no time for the sentimentality that some of Yelchin’s other posthumously released works have afforded him. Yelchin gleefully takes a backseat to the girls here, and the result is one of the best turns of his career. We are left with an equally funny and creepy sadness that seems to tinge every youthful interaction in suburban Connecticut, where the mansions are as suffocating as coffins and the fun is found in the violence and dread underneath the spotless surface.
Early on in the film, you might begin to question what exactly you’re watching. Between the long tracking shots and short-sided conversations, you worry about how the film could possibly reckon its palpable empathy with the depravity of its subject matter, while still eloquently commenting on the privileges and pitfalls of race, class and gender.
My advice would be to trust Finley and the story he’s telling because the result is more nuanced and sinister than you could possibly imagine.
“Thoroughbreds” hits theaters this Friday, March 9.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 5 print edition. Email Tyler Stevens at [email protected]