Empathy is weakness and privilege is power. Adjust the quantifiables on those two metrics enough and you end up with the dangerous type of people who can do just about anything and walk away clean. With his razor-sharp and oil slick first feature Thoroughbreds, writer-director Cory Finley has made a pitch black comedy thriller about the perils of unchecked privilege in the hands of two WASPy weirdos and what happens when they decide they want someone gone from the world.
Ex-BFFs Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) have a forced reunion when Amanda’s mother pays Lily an exorbitant fee to tutor and hang out with her daughter after Amanda becomes a social pariah for killing her horse. Inseparable as kids, the duo drifted apart over the years and their reunion is fraught with unspoken tension — until Amanda makes it clear she doesn’t give a fig for propriety, quite the contrast to her prim pal, and severs that tension with blunt force candor. Once the two get fired up, they are a combustible engine for the film, their seriously strange chemistry ensuring that Thoroughbreds courses with energy.
After spending years as a source of droll warmth on Bates Motel, Cooke gets to play the Norman Bates of the pair as Amanda, a young woman entirely without emotions. “It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person,” she explains, “It just means that I have to try harder than everyone else to be good.” But she doesn’t try that hard. She practices her emotions, using “the technique” to cry and rehearsing smiles in the mirror, but she’s reached a point where she’s finished pretending she’s normal. Amanda is curious and unflappable, and she’s also a bit terrifying, especially when she’s detailing the gruesome way she executed her horse. It’s only described, never seen, but you get the picture in head-swimming detail and it’s easy to understand why the people of the affluent, pristine town look at Amanda with such fearful disdain. Credit to Finley’s sharp script and Cooke’s charismatic performance, however, because the audience can’t help but be charmed by the budding sociopath even if immediate unease sets in anytime she enters a room.