Thoroughbreds takes the strange, nervy stylishness and distant teenage girl psychopathy of Stoker, and multiplies it by Heavenly Creatures, which is to say times two. A fatal fille folie à deux. I’m here for it.
Many critics have been comparing it to Heathers, and there are a lot of overlaps there, for instance lawn sport set pieces. But after the cool, inky gloss of Stoker, I think Heavenly Creatures is the better companion piece for Thoroughbreds, for that element that surprisingly I’ve seen no critic mention, only the writer-director: that he made a psychological thriller sure, but also a romantic comedy. This movie is by far best understood as a weird, muted, obsessive romance between two 17-year-old sociopaths who don’t know how to love each other. By Hannibal standards, this shit gets outright tender. I had some real feelings here! A good joke on me, out of something this darkly deadpan.
So that was fun. Thoroughbreds is just fun. It began its life as a play, and that’s fun (you can easily see how Cory Finley original had it: just two odd girls on a big couch). The score is exceedingly wonky fun. There are so many rack focus shots, the most fun shot. The tone is glib and dry and nimble—fun. The girls at its heart don’t care, which frees the film up to not get too precious about itself. At one point, Anton Yelchin swooningly sniffs a bar of fancy soap in slow motion as ‘Ave Maria’ plays, and then the movie just laughs it off and slide-locks into a sharply macabre Noël Coward scene, literally set in a drawing room.
There’s potentially something in this script about empathy and success, a class-conscious commentary on the moral apathy bought by the rich, but this too is more dry and glib than anything. It’s not like it’s totally empty as a gesture, it’s just a little, “Florals, for spring?” Frankly I think if you want to talk about something fresh in this new voice, it’s how this young straight guy wrote a movie in which two teen girls have no boyfriends, no fraught exes, no crushes, no guys they’re interested in at all. Their stories are wholly unencumbered by any of that, that whole quadrant deemed irrelevant and never even alluded to, like they live in some rarified heterosexuality-free pocket of Connecticut. Like I said this movie is fun.
Nota bene: Earlier I called them sociopaths—Amanda actually reads like a pretty straightforward caricature of a psychopath, though that’s seemingly the only mental makeup she doesn’t mention; Lily is something more complicated. But they’re both pure sociopaths in the film tradition, which has decided that’s the term for any characters who exhibit that recognizable movie strain of ~morally aberrant behavior~. And so just like how English majors are the only people who can garner any utility in still talking about Freud, psychology has yielded ‘sociopath’ to the film critics, where all these out-dated, simplistic models work great on the fictional people we make up.