Thoroughbreds ★★★★½

Thoroughbreds might just be the best thing I’ve seen in 2018, and I don’t have a clue what it means. Amanda and Lily are teenage friends isolated in ritzy Connecticut suburbia. Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy, somehow creepier here than in The Witch) lives in a mansion with a distant mother and a juice-cleansing, bike-short-wearing, emotionally abusive stepfather — whom she, obviously, hates. Amanda (Olivia Cooke, cranking her Me And Earl And The Dying Girl deadpan to an incredible 11) doesn’t hate or love anyone; in fact, she doesn’t feel anything at all. She simply does, with calculated proficience, whatever the situation demands; whether accenting a funeral with a few forced tears, or euthanizing a wounded horse with a knife. “The only thing worse than being incompetent, or being unkind, or being evil, is being indecisive.” Confronted with Lily’s familial situation, the choice is decisively clear: they need to murder the stepfather. Did I mention it’s funny? A pitch black, brutal satire of *something* — suburban living a la American Beauty? teenaged angst a la Heathers? the untapped selfish cruelty of wealthy white America waiting to be unleashed by a socially-uninhibited provocateur a la Literally Every Political Headline Of The Last Two Years? — Thoroughbreds is a movie in total tonal control, impeccably cast (RIP Anton Yelchin) and wonderfully directed. This is Cory Finley’s first feature, but it’s constructed with the brashness of a seasoned auteur. Barring prologue and epilogue, the saga is bookended by two long shots in the same house, tracking the movements of a single character. The first is Birdman levels of maximalist, using darting camerawork and a jarring, percussive score to manufacture dread from scratch. The last is minimal and absolutely chilling, prolonging actual dread by almost entirely muting it; we see nothing, and hear a much…quieter…percussion, but we feel every beat in our bones. The techniques couldn’t be more different, and yet — like Amanda and Lily — they combine into something cunning and dangerous. What an excellent, bizarre debut.

Chris and I talk Anton Yelchin and rowing machines in Episode 493 of The Spoiler Warning Podscast.