Tuesday, June 12, 2018


In this relaxed thriller, Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a very unhappy teen living in a very uncomfortable lap of luxury. She hates her step-father (Paul Sparks) but suppresses and hides her emotions. One person she can't hide from is her childhood friend Amanda (Olivia Cooke). When they reconnect after a while, Amanda admits that she is incapable of feeling emotion, and as a result is perceptive enough to see through Lily's mask. She's also supremely cold and logical, so when she suggests that Lily might murder her mean step-father, the idea... rather takes hold.

Good breeding doesn't mean beans when it comes to the human heart.

The prominent feature here is character study. It's character study mostly by observation because characters never analyze themselves and when they analyze each other is more often says more about the character doing the analyzing. We watch them interact and make decisions and slowly a clear picture emerges. The movie utilizes every facet at its disposal, both in technical film techniques and the more organic ones, creating a machine of many moving parts that work together to point to the same conclusion.

On the "well, duh" side: casting, acting, and characterization. Olivia Cooke's naturally blank deadpan is fascinating in that you would never learn a thing about her from watching her face. For her, we must look to body language, dialogue because Amanda is an honest person, and decisions. Decisiveness is important to Amanda and she has a solid, if skewed view of morality. With Anya Taylor-Joy, her emotions boil under her face, and while she tries to hide behind a stone mask, what does leak through is the good stuff. Emotion drives her and overcomes her sense of morality.

Who's the real psycho here...?

These two characters are almost opposites, and as such they inform our understanding of each as we compare them. Then you must add Anton Yelchin's character to the mix, because without his Tim, there's not quite an ideal balance. Tim is older, less privileged, already has mistakes under his belt, and aspires to be like the two girls already are. He wants wealth and power, and think he has what it takes to achieve that through dealing drugs. But without anti-social disorders or a lifetime of oppressed emotion and lying, that's a path that he's surprisingly ill-equipped to take.

Next, and probably my favorite aspect of the film is the camerawork. Long Takes is the name of the game, but not in a showy, complicated, "look at me" kind of way. It's simple: the camera is placed in a spot where it can view a whole scene with only adjusting focus as a character moves in and out... and it watches. It doesn't decide for us which part of the performance is the most telling; it stays out of our way. Zoom-ins are used to express importance of the moment, and there's plenty of shot-reverse-shot too. I think the idea was to capture the story and character is the simplest, most comfortable, and most effective way possible.

Love him. There's still movies of his I haven't seen, but I never want to finish them.

You don't want to notice shot length or the reasoning behind a shot composition while watching; you just want it to make the desired effect. With this not showy but intentional method, it did its job -- I had to watch it again to pick up on it fully, spurred by the longest oner -- a three-minute one that was masterful. I adore watching films with minimal cutting and being able to see performances play out -- to be allowed to look at what I want to, instead of the camera's framing forcing me to look somewhere where I don't see performance coming from. When a performance is as good as this cast gives, different people will see it in different places.

Even with their backs to the camera they are still readable, and when they're off screen the sound effects take over, and you'd might be surprised at how telling they can be too. Paring the heightened moments that would tend to overload down to only sound focuses the tension and engages the imagination. And it allows the film to keep it's deliberate, relaxed pace even through the crazier parts. The soundtrack also needs a mention: it's mainly spastic tribal drums which is hilariously fitting to the otherworldly setting. At one point a character's running footsteps could be easily confused for scoring too.

It's all so wonderfully strange.

Despite dark subject matter and the character study of extremely flawed humans that you'd rather be fascinated by than identify with, the film is well grounded in entertainment. Richly comic in wonderfully subtle and dark ways that works alongside the film's other moods for beautiful and unexpected combinations. My favorite bit was Ave Maria playing as Tim slow-motion smells soap and caresses a shiny red car in Lily's fancy house. Drop-dead gorgeous. I also loved watching the girls act in front of mirrors, and the neat detail where Amanda only uses the pawns and knights as she plays chess with herself.

Thoroughbreds is stimulating to watch, never lacking visual interest on screen that draws the eye and engages the mind, so even as the film moves casually and methodically it is not for one second boring. Its fascinating characters aren't spelled out for us, and the final delivery isn't a message or moral, but simply a few character journeys that will make you think hard about their situation, their burdens, and their decisions. We are invited not to judge, but to understand -- as we are entertained by the film's lavish, well-bred existence.


  1. Nice review! I saw the trailers earlier this year and it looked fascinating. It's a shame that this is Anton's last performance 'cause he had so much to offer. And I love Olivia. She was wonderful on Bates Motel. Since the movie had a pretty small theater release, I haven't been able to find it on-demand yet, but I'm going to be on the look-out.

    1. Thanks! It is definitely a fascinating one! Absolutely. :/ He was particularly excellent in this. And so was Olivia, I loved her character and how understated she was. I hope you enjoy whenever you find it!