Director Debut Emerging Writers Feature

Emerging Writers – Revisiting Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds

The Big Picture is committed to giving young, emerging writers a voice in the world of film criticism. In our new feature, student writers from around the world share their insights on contemporary film and new releases.

By Lydia Williams

Cory Finley debuted his first feature film, Thoroughbreds, in Spring 2017, starring the now-beloved Anya Taylor-Joy. This dry thriller following two young girls’ murder plot gained little attention after its premiere. Its status as a lost cult classic is a shame considering its tension and reversal of audience expectations. 

Lily (Taylor-Joy), the girl who feels everything and Amanda (Olivia Cooke), the girl who feels nothing, are both outcasts in their respective schools; they unite over ACT tutoring. We learn that Amanda recently killed her horse in a horrific fashion for undisclosed reasons, and she shows no remorse. They are “saved” from the morbid conversation by Lily’s stepfather interrupting; however, Lily’s hatred for the new member of the family is quickly revealed. As the film progresses the girls conspire to murder the seemingly despicable stepfather and uncover secrets about each other. As we watch these puzzles get solved, our perceptions of the girls are switched. 

Lily’s emotional normalcy and seeming empathy are revealed to be bitter, unfeeling hatred for a stepfather. Amanda’s psychopathic outward appearance becomes loyalty to a relationship, which leads to her downfall. As we watch the beginning of their relationship, Lily often complains about her stepfather and Amanda coolly suggests killing him. In this witty bit of dialogue, we can see the true nature of each character. 

Amanda: You ever think about just killing him?

Lily: No.

Amanda: You can at least consider it, weigh the pros and cons, consider all the options.

Lily: Not like murder.

Amanda: Sure, it’s outside the box, but you can only get so far thinking how everyone else thinks. Look at Steve Jobs. Seems like you could generate a lot of benefits.

Lily: Except I’d spend the rest of my life in jail.

Amanda: Why are you assuming you’d get caught?

Finley’s dry dialogue forces the viewer to actively pay attention to the words spoken and the hidden emotions behind the monotone voices. Amanda sees this conversation as a hypothetical, a disturbing one; however, she seems to have no emotional connection to actually committing the crime. When questioned about the murder, Lily responds with a concern about her own life, rather than the life of her stepdad, the victim in question. Amanda seems emotionless but upon deeper inspection, she is trying to solve a problem making her new and only friend upset. Lily’s “emotional” connection to the conversation isn’t about her morals but her quality of life. 

© 2017 B Story

When Lily has had enough of her situation, she decides to hire a hitman, Tim (Anton Yelchin), with the help of her only friend. The drug dealer turned hitman has questionable morals yet still decides to bail on the plan. After the plan is revealed to have failed, we cut to the girls sitting on the couch, a shot Finley uses to signify an important moment in the girls’ relationship. Amanda goes to drink juice provided by Lily, but the latter reluctantly tells her not to drink it because she planned to roofie the drink, stab her stepfather and blame it on Amanda. Amanda makes an impulsive, emotional decision, the kind that the audience thought she was incapable of. She looks Lily in the eyes and swallows the juice. Lily, despite being shocked, makes a cold, calculated decision: She walks offscreen, comes back covered in blood, and smears it on Amanda. 

Thoroughbreds has been lost in the whirlwind of action and drama movies released in 2017. Audiences are truly missing out on this hilarious, intelligent film starring one of the most recognizable actresses of the year and announcing the stunning debut of writer/director Cory Finley.

Lydia Williams is an 18-year-old student working to become an English teacher. They are fascinated with the way words and images are incorporated into film. Lydia is excited to share their thoughts on their favourite movies that have shaped their life.