Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

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DarkImbecile
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Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#1 Post by DarkImbecile » Sat Mar 10, 2018 7:40 pm

(It might be presumptuous to start a thread for this with zero prior discussion, but Thoroughbreds will earn it)

I didn’t know much about Thoroughbreds going in except that its posters appeared to be designed specifically as bait for domino harvey and that it had gotten some raves at Sundance 2017 before sitting on the shelf for 15 months. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be my early favorite of 2018 so far, but here we are.

Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy are excellent as two privileged northeastern girls - one super-rich and the other merely upper class, one a clinical psychopath and the other merely violently amoral - who unexpectedly bond over a plan to rid one of them of a bothersome step-parent. Taylor-Joy in particular is officially the Next Big Thing in my book, after this, The Witch, and Split; she has a moment early on where she’s encouraged to drop a facade of politeness, and the subtle changes in her eyes and stance as she embraces some brutal honesty are thrilling to watch.

The film establishes where it’s heading pretty early on, but the trip to that ending and the character details revealed along the way are fascinating and rarely unravel quite as one expects. I was worried when Anton Yelchin’s sleazy drug dealer becomes more prominent about an hour in (he’s good in his final role, but he can’t match the magnetism of the two women), but the film avoids the obvious pitfalls associated with that character and refocuses on the leads for an expertly executed climax.

Cory Finley - who had primarily worked in theater prior to this debut - gives the film the structure of a play (limited characters and locations, dialogue over action), but fully embraces and makes expert use of the cinematic tools available. The cinematography is stylish but not so showy as to be distracting, and the sound work is really striking, from Erik Friedlander’s percussion-heavy music to some perfectly exaggerated foley effects. Finley’s management of tone and pacing is impressive, and - in combination with the script and the work with the actors - his work adds up to an extremely promising debut and a darkly comedic showcase for two stellar young actresses.

Highly recommended, and absolutely worth a trip to the theater before it disappears (can’t imagine it’ll please most unsuspecting audiences enough to linger too long).

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#2 Post by Satori » Sun Mar 11, 2018 7:21 am

I really enjoyed this as well. It walks a delicate balancing act in its depiction of the relationship between the young women: while one is amoral and the other sociopathic, their friendship is actually quite touching. The film takes their bond seriously in a way that most filmmakers would not have. I also like that it avoids any attempt to explain away their sociopathy via cheap shots at social media or internet culture. The scenes of them watching classic Hollywood movies together are a great touch.

I can also see the stage influence, particularly in the climax of the film
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in which the murder happens off screen
Finley might go a bit overboard trying to prove his cinematic bona fides with the lengthy tracking shots up and down the staircases, although I really appreciated his precise framing of the two leads, especially when they mirror each other on both ends of the frame as in the photo above.

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#3 Post by Persona » Sun Mar 11, 2018 3:49 pm

Sounds a bit like Heavenly Creatures! Which I love... how does it compare to that?

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#4 Post by Satori » Mon Mar 12, 2018 11:35 am

Persona wrote:Sounds a bit like Heavenly Creatures! Which I love... how does it compare to that?
There are some obvious narrative overlaps, but they are fairly different films. Whereas Heavenly Creatures is interested in exploring adolescent sexuality, Thoroughbreds is intriguingly asexual. I actually thought this was to the film's credit because it lets it focus on other issues and ideas. It's been so long since I've seen Heavenly Creatures that I can't really speak to any formal or aesthetic overlaps between them.

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#5 Post by willoneill » Mon Mar 12, 2018 2:19 pm

Satori wrote:There are some obvious narrative overlaps, but they are fairly different films. Whereas Heavenly Creatures is interested in exploring adolescent sexuality, Thoroughbreds is intriguingly asexual. I actually thought this was to the film's credit because it lets it focus on other issues and ideas. It's been so long since I've seen Heavenly Creatures that I can't really speak to any formal or aesthetic overlaps between them.
Heavenly Creatures (from my memory) also has a lot of effects-driven fantasy sequences, while the film is very simply and starkly-shot, with almost no onscreen "action", so to speak. I saw this last night and one of my thoughts was how it could very much work as a play, only to find out that Cory Finley actually does come from a theater background.

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#6 Post by Mr Sausage » Tue Mar 13, 2018 4:24 pm

The similarities with Heavenly Creatures are superficial only. That film was about two normal girls who develop a friendship of such unhealthy obsession that they tip over into an unreality that makes murder seem like a viable option. Thoroughbreds is about two unhealthy girls with behavioural issues whose friendship actually brings out the best in them, odd as that may sound. Plus this movie is a black comedy, while Jackson's film is a lush character drama.

Something that fascinated me, and which I believe to be accurate, is how Amanda, our clinical sociopath, has no inner sense of right or wrong, but does have a more abstract sense of rightness better called justice. For her there are things that ought to be done. There is no emotional content behind it, but nevertheless: a horse who can't walk ought to be put down, and done so humanely (however incompetently) if there's a long relationship behind it; an awful step-father ought to be killed; and a friend ought to be sacrificed for, especially if that friend's life seems to be more worth living. I remember an interview with James Fallon, an eminent psychologist who famously discovered by accident that he was a clinical sociopath, in which he described having a similar sense of justice that was oddly abstract and cold-blooded. Kudos to Olivia Cooke for playing this role. It's not easy to take a flat character with no affective life and make that character interesting and even moving.

My favourite moment in the film was shaping up to be my least favourite: the 'asshole/villain reveals the lead's flaws accurately' speech the step father gives, a generally unearned moment in films meant to score points for depth or complexity. And then the movie saves it by having Amanda walk in and in her deadpan manner shrug and echo it: "It's not like he was off the mark. Empathy never was your strong suit." A good example of the film's mordant humour and also it's twisted depth: Amanda sees her friend clearly and, well, accepts her for who she is. It's two people incapable of meaningful relationships managing to have their own strange version of a meaningful relationship.

Really good film.

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#7 Post by mfunk9786 » Fri Jun 15, 2018 11:48 pm

Thought this was dull as dishwater. A combination of predictably "snappy" dialogue and Braff-ian symmetrical Cinemascope shots that I thought were left somewhere on an early '00s Suncoast Video shelf never to be seen again. The two lead actresses are game, but they're directed to be varying degrees of zombified for plot (and a e s t h e t i c purposes), which makes the late Anton Yelchin's overacting all the more jarring when he turns up. Will surely find an audience with teenagers who are just getting into movies, and that's not an altogether bad thing - but expecting Cory Finley to be the next Richard Kelly seems like a risky bet.

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#8 Post by barryconvex » Sat Jun 16, 2018 12:28 am

I liked this one a lot too for most of the reasons Mr. Sausage already stated. So much of this could have gone the way 100 other teen movies have but it managed to stay off the beaten path without getting cute. Mostly because of excellent performances from the two leads (Anya Taylor-Joy is going to be huge before much longer) and a clearly seen take on what turns out to be a rather touching friendship.

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#9 Post by domino harvey » Sun Jan 13, 2019 1:45 pm

DarkImbecile wrote:
Sat Mar 10, 2018 7:40 pm
I didn’t know much about Thoroughbreds going in except that its posters appeared to be designed specifically as bait for domino harvey
Image

It's always comforting when someone makes exactly the kind of movie I'm interested in. More filmmakers should consider me their target audience, though I can't promise them high box office returns or universal critical acclaim. This was as easy a straight shot to the top of my Best of 2018 list as any movie could be: a stylish, smartly-written and performed theatrical noir riff using teenagers but not in a masturbatory way like Brick? Absent a dance number, that's like all my interests. Some great comments in this thread, but I have to fundamentally disagree with everyone about the central pairing, which I don't think is about friendship at all, at least not in a sororal sense.
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To me the entire film is an exploration of culpability, in that Taylor-Joy is drawn to Cooke due to Cooke’s ability to do the only thing she can’t: be herself. And in an inverse of the traditional teen movie, it would undoubtedly be better for the world if Taylor-Joy wasn’t herself when that self is a selfish, murderous, and ice cold spoiled brat. The film gives us constant evidence that Taylor-Joy is running on the fumes of others in order to displace/disabuse her own impetuses. Even the act that got her expelled speaks to this: plagiarism. That she initially misreads Cooke’s behaviors with the horse shows her projection well, and she can’t even go through with her murder plan until receiving permission from Cooke to proceed.

I must admit I fail to see the ending scene as anything other than brutal: Since Cooke is so even-keeled, it is of course no surprise that she acclimates to the oppressive surroundings of the mental ward, which is in a weird way its own kind of happy ending; but I take Taylor-Joy at her word that she throws away Cooke’s letter unread, no longer needing permission or help to be herself. It’s as fatalistic an ending as that of DOA or any other noir, a death of self-restraint and better impulses from someone who unlike Cooke could help it but did everything in her power not to and succeeded.

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#10 Post by soundchaser » Sun Jan 13, 2019 2:28 pm

domino harvey wrote:
Sun Jan 13, 2019 1:45 pm
Absent a dance number, that's like all my interests.
It does have that beautiful smash cut to “Dancing in the Moonlight,” which sticks in my mind as one of the most enjoyable pieces of editing last year.

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#11 Post by liam fennell » Mon Jan 14, 2019 9:09 am

I don't have much to say as always, but this is easily my favorite movie from this century! Almost everything I like about movies can be found in Thoroughbreds. I think the direction is handsome, the writing stellar, the pacing just right, the sound design (the near-omnipresent rhythmic lurch of the rowing machine really is almost intolerable!) and the fragmentary percussive score are particularly effective, and the actresses absolutely wonderful and convincing in their roles. The acting is indeed a little awkward at moments but I think it's in line with the characters who are also a little awkward? They're kids, so I buy every bit of it myself. This has my favorite tossed-off character trait from any movie I've yet seen that isn't by Stroheim:
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Olivia Cooke's character stands in the backyard and looks at a bush in her idle time!

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#12 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Jan 14, 2019 3:40 pm

liam fennell wrote:
Mon Jan 14, 2019 9:09 am
this is easily my favorite movie from this century!
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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#13 Post by domino harvey » Mon Jan 14, 2019 3:45 pm

Look around, you're the only one who's weighed-in who didn't like it. The user you're mocking explained why they value the film, not sure why that justifies faux shock that someone could enjoy it

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#14 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Jan 14, 2019 3:46 pm

It's just quite the proclamation, in no way was I mocking anyone, relax

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#15 Post by swo17 » Mon Jan 14, 2019 4:01 pm

That is sort of a judgy face Glover is making. But I guess I'll join mfunk in naysaying the film a little. I actually thought it was well acted and constructed, but I was put off by the mean-spiritedness of it, I guess. Which is not something I'm used to criticizing in a film (I loved Unsane and The House That Jack Built for instance). But here we are.

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#16 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Jan 14, 2019 4:05 pm

Thought it had a nice "dun dun dunnnn" camera movement to it. Oh well. Wasn't meant to offend, at any rate, as soon as I'm done putting it in the Iñárritu thread I'll never use it again

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#17 Post by DarkImbecile » Mon Jan 14, 2019 4:51 pm

swo17 wrote:
Mon Jan 14, 2019 4:01 pm
... I guess I'll join mfunk in naysaying the film a little. I actually thought it was well acted and constructed, but I was put off by the mean-spiritedness of it, I guess.
Was this something you were bothered by throughout, or did you hit a tipping point?

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#18 Post by swo17 » Mon Jan 14, 2019 5:17 pm

It's not fresh in my mind but I want to say throughout maybe

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#19 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Jan 14, 2019 5:28 pm

Aestheticising mental illness is what bothered me, for the most part. There's a really strong HBO documentary, Beware the Slenderman, that actually explores the consequences of such a thing occurring in real life, which is a lot more compelling to me than cooking up a slick film about imagined disaffected teenagers that takes pleasure in their behavior. That said, pretty much anything can be made compelling if a film is well-made enough.

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#20 Post by DarkImbecile » Mon Jan 14, 2019 7:06 pm

I ask because I talked to one of the other four people who saw it when it was released, and they seemed to be particularly repelled by the last scene with Anya Taylor-Joy (discussed under domino's spoiler tag), which apparently erased any illusion that she could be interpreted as a kind of anti-hero. Not that this appears to apply to swo or mfunk, but I'm always interested in the way in which many people want so much to sympathize with the protagonist that they rationalize to the bitter end and resist being shaken off by an artist more definitively stating that this is a no good, very bad person — Walter White and Tony Soprano are two examples that immediately come to mind.

Since you bring up mental illness, mfunk, I think an interesting film to compare this one to might be Hereditary, which you also didn't like, if I'm not mistaken and which I don't think can be accused of prettying up that topic while still examining it — like Thoroughbreds — in a highly stylized, tightly constructed form. I thought Finley's film found plenty of interest in contrasting a moral sickness with a clinical one than we're likely to have found in a more straightforward examination of violently pathological kids, but Hereditary would be a good example of a film that — for me — really digs into the ugly emotional reality of familial mental illness and trauma without becoming a dreary wallow in the roots and consequences of it.

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#21 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Jan 14, 2019 7:35 pm

I didn't have any issue with Hereditary in that way, I didn't like that because it was overlong and dull (for the most part) despite having some compelling component pieces that never quite came together into much. This was just too masturbatory for me, a movie exploiting the photogenic qualities of moody, wealthy teenage girls that doesn't seem particularly concerned in doing much more than using them as set dressing for a zippy screenplay. I already saw Jawbreaker in 1999, I'm afraid to report - these films tend to not do much for me when they don't have much to say

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#22 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Jan 14, 2019 7:52 pm

mfunk wrote:Aestheticising mental illness is what bothered me, for the most part. There's a really strong HBO documentary, Beware the Slenderman, that actually explores the consequences of such a thing occurring in real life, which is a lot more compelling to me than cooking up a slick film about imagined disaffected teenagers that takes pleasure in their behavior.
The only mental illness in Thoroughbreds is anti-social personality disorder, and that's a strange thing to bothered by, for all sorts of reasons (surely no one's wringing their hands over the plight of the sociopath). Collocating this movie with the slenderman stabbing (or even Heavenly Creatures up above) is misleading because those films/incidents are about mental illness as shared delusion, a break from reality. Neither of the protagonists in Thoroughbreds shares a delusion, and the one with a diagnosable mental disorder is not only the most clear-sighted and level-headed, but the only one of the two innocent of the central crime.

In fact the film is constantly baiting our expectations and then reversing them. We have a lot of preconceptions about sociopaths that we've accumulated from the media: that they torture animals, are potential serial killers, are cruel and cold and incapable of anything but selfish actions. The film knows we expect that and uses reversals to open us up to a more nuanced appraisal of the character. It opens with her killing a horse, classic sociopath style, only to reveal it was for very different reasons than we had assumed. There's a small scene where she tells Taylor-Joy's character to "hit" the dog if he's bothering her. Taylor-Joy, like the viewer, is shocked and disgusted, assuming it to be sociopathic callousness. But then Cooke's character gently shoos the dog away and we realize we'd misinterpreted something she'd meant innocently (not unreasonably, but still). What this builds to of course is an ironic reversal: our sociopath not only doesn't commit any murders, but does something typically selfless and allows herself to be blamed so that her friend can go free.

The point being: this movie cannot be aestheticizing mental illness because it's not about mental illness. It's at pains to lift Cooke out of the typifying/stereotyping of the DSM (making a crack at the expense of both it and psychology early on) so that she becomes a character rather than a disorder and the movie about a dramatic situation rather than a psychological condition.

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#23 Post by liam fennell » Tue Jan 15, 2019 10:19 am

mfunk9786 wrote:
Mon Jan 14, 2019 3:46 pm
It's just quite the proclamation, in no way was I mocking anyone, relax
It was absolutely a ridiculous statement and honestly I've seen very few modern day movies so I'm probably the worst judge possible! Totally not offended.

I have viewed Thoroughbreds quite a few times now and it just pushes all my buttons. A lot of things ring true viz. trying to be a good friend when you're kind of a weirdo who doesn't know exactly how but genuinely wants to be, and how certain types of people won't hesitate to exploit that kind of weakness if that's the price of achieving a goal. Little things like how Olivia Cooke keeps trying to awkwardly hug Anya T-J ring true, and also more prominent things like Cooke's completely selfless and unhesitating actions towards the end. Taylor-Joy's character seems to me to be the kind of person who makes friends easily and lightly, and just as easily discards them, while Olivia Cooke's is explicitly someone who genuinely wants a real connection with another person but is so unlikable her mother has to pay people to spend time with her; the movie as I (perhaps mis-) read it is an exemplary classical tragedy -- balanced, clearly-drawn, and economical -- not unlike the few Shakespeare and Euripedes plays I'm familiar with and which I also rate quite highly!

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Re: Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, 2018)

#24 Post by Mr Sausage » Tue Jan 15, 2019 11:23 am

I don’t think Taylor-Joy’s character befriends Cooke’s character cynically, with exploitation in mind. I took the reason she hangs out with her to be because, unlike in the rest of her life, she doesn’t have to fake who she is or put on a veneer of niceness around Cooke’s character. She’s found someone who’ll accept her for who she is, without judgement. Of course the joke is that someone’s a sociopath. But the two share an honesty the other characters don’t.

I know domino understands this movie through the lense of noir tradition as a toxic tragedy, and it’s a great reading that the movie allows for.

I prefer to understand it as a black comedy, and see it as primarily ironic. It’s locating positive, uplifting values in situations and contexts that are traditionally used to oppose those values.

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