There’s always so many treats coming out of the Sundance Film Festival at the start of every new year but gosh darn it if we struggle to see some of them here in old Blighty. Over the years, many of those “expensive” films find there way into cinemas but others don’t – lost at sea to maybe never see the light of day with only a fleeting DVD release to showcase some upcoming talents. With any luck, Thoroughbreds will form into the former for it is a darkly comic yet endlessly tragic thriller that will demand repeat viewings.
Set in the extremely up-market and plush surroundings of Connecticut, we are introduced to Amanda (Cooke), a disenchanted and emotionally empty teen who is as distant and emotionless as they come. Struggling with her studies, her mother sets her up with Amanda’s former school friend of Lily (Taylor-Joy) who agrees to tutor her. With their earlier sparks revisited and brought back to the surface, the duo begins to spend many an hour together studying and watching old films but from the outset, something isn’t quite right. Soon enough, the two are conspiring against Joy’s stepfather (Sparks) who he doesn’t see eye to eye with and becomes the object of the girl’s attention – and plot his demise.
Finley, who makes his feature debut here, looks as if he has been doing it for decades such is his skill and maturity both behind the camera and on the page. Adapted from his own play that was set in one room with the two leads talking, his expansion of this little slice of yuppie American privilege plays out with suspense and tension that sizzles under the surface of some jet-black humour that already has people echoing it in the same breathe as Heathers, Cruel Intentions and Dangerous Liaisons for it’s concoction of wit, darkness and murderous intent.
His dialogue slices through the film with both charm and dryness amplified ten-fold by two sensational lead performances from Cooke and Taylor-Joy who revel in the language and in front of them. Behind the camera, he is purposeful and sharp, keeping a close eye on his characters as the metamorph through the film with every tick and every breathes integral to the next. Aided by the crisp cinematography of Lyle Vincent, it’s a film full of clarity and incisiveness that’s awash with colour and bubbling with tension, with Finley filling the lens with stark close-ups as well as the lush Connecticut surroundings. And, lest we forget another brilliant performance from Anton Yelchin, which ultimately turned out to be his last – and, as with many of his others, it’s one to be remembered.
One of the finds of the London Film Festival, and indeed the year, Thoroughbreds is a devilishly good film that brings much to admire, not least the ever-excellent talents of its leads and a directorial debut to savour. Wicked I the best way possible.