Movies about sociopaths rarely announce themselves as such. It’s usually something we need to tease out about the characters on our own. Not so with Thoroughbreds
“I don’t feel any emotions,” declares teenage Amanda (Olivia Cooke) to her tutor and possible friend Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), right as the film begins. Amanda goes on to explain that she has become so skilled at replicating human emotions—joy, anger, sadness—she could almost convince herself the emotions are real. (She’s even taught herself a trick, by triggering physiological responses, to cry on command.) But the emotions aren’t real, she maintains. And life has become a lot less complicated now that she’s finally acknowledged that fact.
Listening to her in the giant mansion she shares with her mother and narcissist stepfather (Paul Sparks), Lily is some combination of disgusted, amused, and fascinated. Something about Amanda’s candor, her complete lack of caring what other people think, is alluring to her. And it helps that Amanda is actually amusing, an acid-tongued truth teller, with a unique way of cutting through the social niceties to tell it like it is.
And then—mild spoiler for those who have avoided the commercials and trailers—Amanda casually suggests that Lily kill her hated step-father. At first, Lily reacts with anger and revulsion—the socially correct response. But at some point, the notion begins to intrigue her. Among the many ideas it puts forth, Thoroughbreds suggests that our morality is less a fixed trait and more a byproduct of a social contract. But what if we were existing in social bubble where morality was completely fluid?
Directed with lots of style and deadpan wit by screenwriter Cory Finley, Thoroughbreds is an updated film noir, an amusing pas de deux between two compelling villainesses. Both young actresses are wonderful—Cooke plays Amanda as louche and rebel cool; while Taylor Joy makes Lily a spoiled princess who begins to slowly see, and relish, what she’s capable of. And Anton Yelchin, in one of his last roles, is in fine form as Tim, the scuzzy high school drop-out with delusions of grandeur the girls recruit to help them carry out their dastardly plan.
Thoroughbreds may not be for everyone. For a screenwriter, Finley is quite comfortable with a long take, and the film’s defiant nastiness might be off-putting for some. But I would argue there’s some humanity creeping around the edges of Thoroughbreds—and even a screwed up love story of sorts. You just have to remind yourself that all narrators aren’t reliable, especially when they’re talking about themselves.