It’s a safe bet that no one wakes up jonesing for an indie flick about two sociopathic, rich-kid, teen-aged girls who plot to murder an adult with the help of a drug-dealing loser—but once you see Thoroughbreds, you may find yourself thankful for the 90 minutes well spent. The black-as-night comedy from first-time director Cory Finley, who adapted his own stage play, is quirky and disturbing and hilarious all at once. With its distinctly small-budget approach and its sparse (but hella-talented) cast, Thoroughbreds evokes the style and feel of independent movies like sex, lies, and videotape and Carnage, with a story reminiscent of Heavenly Creatures and Heathers.

Anya Taylor-Joy leads the way as Lily, a smart and seemingly normal young woman who’s been kicked out of boarding school for plagiarism. Years earlier she was friends with Amanda (Olivia Cooke), but ever since the death of Lily’s father, the two have grown apart. After Amanda kills her own horse (offscreen, thankfully), her mother arranges for the two girls to hang out with each other again, in hopes that it will help cure her daughter of whatever psychological disorder is plaguing her.

Amanda informs Lily that she is incapable of feeling any emotions, either positive or negative, and the two eventually begin to bond. When Lily expresses her hatred for her overbearing, obnoxious stepfather Mark (Paul Sparks), Amanda suggests they devise a plan to kill him, and she eventually recruits hapless Tim (the late Anton Yelchin, in the last role he filmed) to do the dirty work.

Saying anymore would spoil all the deliciously dark fun that Thoroughbredsprovides, but it’s safe to remind everyone that things rarely work out as planned. Sure enough, just when you think you have the film figured out and can comfortably sit back to enjoy it, Finley takes you down another swerving detour and throws everything on its head. The film is a wholly unpredictable thrill ride that may make you feel like you’re as much of a head-case as its main characters are.

Taylor-Joy and Cooke play off each other with the finely-honed precision of two dancers nailing a perfectly choreographed routine. We’re never really sure what’s going on in the girls’ heads, and that’s just how Finley wants it; Thoroughbreds is crafted to make sure you keep guessing from start to finish… and then guess even more once the credits have stopped rolling.

From little details like the incessant droning of Mark’s rowing machine to the oversized chess game Amanda plays by herself as they plot the murder, the movie is collection of seemingly small and inconsequential things that all collide into a glorious, what-the-hell ending.

Enhanced by composer Erik Friedlander’s off-kilter score and the tight, efficient work by editor Louise Ford (Don’t Breathe), Finley’s debut is a wonderful (though wonderfully disturbing) triumph. Not too many people zip out to the movies in search of something that makes them think even as they squirm a little in their seat, but hey… it can’t all be superheroes and cutesy love stories, right?


4.5/5 stars