Imagine living in the world and not giving a shit about the people who share it with you. (No jokes about the White House, please.) The deliciously depraved Thoroughbreds is set in the opulent, WASP-y world of teen divas with killer instincts. Meet Amanda (Olivia Cooke), a snappy and assured teenager with a stiletto-sharp mind free of emotion. She can’t feel a thing, committed only to “Steve Jobs[-ing] my way through life.” After going full Equus on her family horse, Amanda shows up at the Connecticut mansion of her estranged childhood chum Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy – The Witch star crushes it again) for a bogus bonding session. This young woman feels things too much. She loathes her stepfather Mark (a hilariously hateable Paul Sparks) and tells Amanda that she daydreams about murdering him. That idea of plotting a homicide – vibing nicely on Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, not to mention Heathers and Heavenly Creatures – rouses the usually indifferent Amanda. And suddenly, a lethal fantasy slowly takes on the contours of the do-able.
First-time director Cory Finley, adapting his play for the screen, takes a slow-burn approach that could leave some viewers impatient. But hang on: He has some surprises in store, letting us hang with the girls before making rash judgements. Lily looks like Miss Innocent, but she got booted from Andover for plagiarizing an essay. And Amanda may have had her reasons for offing that horse. Cooke, so fine in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, is an implosive dynamo, never more chilling than when she fakes emotion to pass as normal. But both of these sensational U.K.-born actors show startling talent, taking audiences on a wild ride fueled by stinging wit and shocking gravity. It’s not just millennials feeling the empathy drain. Finley sees it as emblematic of modern life.
And expect to be hit hard by Anton Yelchin as Tim, a drug dealer and sex offender who tragically reveals more vestiges of humanity than Lily and Amanda combined. In the last role he filmed, Yelchin is careful to show Tim’s bravado as a mask for fragility. The young women blackmail him into being their accomplice but he’s got no stomach for it. The late actor brings a sly wit and bruised conscience to the role that marks him again as a consummate actor and another reason that the feverishly hypnotic Thoroughbreds gets inside your head and stays there.