By Emilie Hu
Thoroughbreds (2017) was on its way to becoming an instant cult-classic. It includes the same excitingly evil qualities of teenage boredom as the classic film, Heathers, because it centers around two ultra-wealthy high school girls who form an unlikely alliance to murder an abhorrent step-father.
Teenage girlhood could not be more cutthroat.
Ironically, first-time director, Corey Finley, had never even set foot on a movie set before filming Thoroughbreds. When Finley wrote Thoroughbreds, it was intended for the stage, but he transformed the script into a highly sought-after screenplay. His playwright expertise transitioned marvelously into the big screen. The dialogue is fast-paced and decisive. He weaves dry humor with cold-hearted intentions in his two female protagonists, Amanda and Lily. The momentum is exhilarating and tense, enhanced by a suspenseful and percussive score throughout the film.
Having said that, the release date for Thoroughbreds couldn’t have been worse. Although the film debuted at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, it wasn’t distributed to theatres until over a year later in March 2018. After the Parkland shooting and the #MarchForOurLives movement, teens committing violence is probably the last thing an audience wants to see on the big screen.
However, the film’s core themes transcend its violent premise. Thoroughbreds is not supposed to be an coming-of-age story like recent films Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name. Thoroughbreds is really a satirical examination of privilege, wealth, and apathy that exists within high society. With the right amount of ambition and the absence of empathy America’s elite can achieve anything.
The film opens up with Amanda (Olivia Cooke) arriving at Lily’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) mansion in an affluent Connecticut suburb for an SAT tutoring session. Through terse and fast-paced dialogue, it’s revealed that the two were childhood friends who abruptly stopped spending time with one another at some point in high school. Although Lily desperately feigns an interest in getting to know Amanda again, it seems like neither girl genuinely wants to be friends with the other. Amanda nonchalantly admits to Lily that she knows her own mother was paying Lily to spend time with her.
Lily falls into the classic “prep” archetype in teen movies. She wears Peter Pan colors and aspires for an Ivy League college. She tries to be gracious and inhibited, contrasting Amanda’s brusque personality and her candidness about murdering the family horse. Amanda’s scandalous atrocity has left her ostracized from her peers yet she’s painfully indifferent about her tarnished reputation. She reveals to Lily that although she can simulate them, she cannot process emotions. Although Amanda feels no attachment to the forces morality and immorality in the world, she is not apathetic. She observes and comments on Lily’s hatred for her step-father, Mark. Mark is the source of suffering in Lily’s privileged life. She rejects his gifts (stacks of cash left on the staircase) and truly despises him for limiting her freedom in his own, lavish estate. Eventually, the two girls begin to spend more time with one another by choice so Amanda can teach Lily how to defy her step-father’s reign. She pokes at Lily’s internalized disdain for Mark and eventually offers the idea to help murder him. Lily, to her own surprise, agrees, and the two embark on their ambitious plot.
Thoroughbreds reminds us of how easy it is to ignore other the lives of others in order to serve yourself. For these high-society protagonists, apathy is their greatest asset for success. Amanda presses Lily to cast aside her emotions in order to enable her own capacity for cruelty. As the film progresses, Lily learns how to act more like her ally. Apathy is a methodical and conscious state of mind for Lily. It’s an indicator of her own privilege too, because she can choose to ignore morality, physical brutality, and the weight of her consequences. Afterall, Amanda and Lily’s fate will forever be ensured by their wealth and status. The film isn’t a criticism of petty teenage angst either, because this deliberate form of apathy exists everywhere among those in power and those with money. It shows that no matter who you are, as long as you have wealth and status in this country, you can make yourself immune to violence. When it comes to getting what you want, there is no room for humanity. While its untimely release date and violent themes may eclipse the film’s true significance for now, Thoroughbreds is a film not to be forgotten.
Image Credit to Variety