Like a two-day-old helium balloon, you can see Thoroughbreds slowly deflating with each passing act. It begins promisingly enough, centering on the affectless Amanda (a fantastic Olivia Cooke) as she rekindles her relationship with childhood friend Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy, also quite solid). Both girls have dark sides: Amanda recently euthanized a horse using a knife, while Lily continues to mourn her dead father, as well as hate her jackass of a stepfather (Paul Sparks). The forthright Amanda and the emotionally-unbalanced Lily make for an intriguing combination, and one is led to think the film will tease out this chemistry in more fruitful ways than it ultimately does. Instead, Thoroughbreds leans rather heavily on the old morals about affluenza and the violent tendencies of the unproductive, culminating in a banal “thriller” that doesn’t live up to its name. Director Cory Finley doesn’t take his story to new or exciting places, and those places we see have been done up much better elsewhere. His directorial choices are somewhat more involving, and show that he has some promise behind the camera. I wouldn’t mind seeing him helm a horror feature, for instance. But this tale of bourgeois malaise and unhinged femininity is cut from too familiar a cloth for it to dazzle as a debut.
Its redeeming aspect is the subtle humour, which is mostly in Cooke’s capable hands, and the sole reason why the film doesn’t dip from bad to worse. Her expressions and scathing retorts (“Wear a hat!” is my favourite) show a strong command of language when it’s stripped of its emotional tags, and while it doesn’t necessarily show the antisocial members of our human race in a good light, there’s still enough mischief for you to still like her. And, by extension, like the film. Cooke hasn’t had the most illustrious start to her film career, but a project like Thoroughbreds does enough for you to want to keep your eyes on her. With the right material, she knows how to set the screen ablaze.