[Screen It]


(2018) (Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke) (R)

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Dramatic Thriller: Two teen conspire to kill one's stepfather.
Lily Reynolds (ANYA TAYLOR-JOY) is a teenage girl seemingly embodying the dream of being rich and living in a huge mansion in Connecticut. But not far below the surface she's quite unhappy, especially since she can't stand her stepfather, Mark (PAUL SPARKS), who married her mother following her father's death.

Enter Amanda (OLIVIA COOKE) who's known Lily since they were kids but is more of an acquaintance than a friend, and one whose mom has hired Lily to tutor her. Amanda is a no-nonsense teen who freely speaks her mind and states that she never feels any emotion and just fakes that on the surface.

Seeing Lily's interactions with Mark, Amanda matter-of-factly states they should simply kill the man. But knowing they'd need airtight alibis, they decide to hire local low-end drug dealer Tim (ANTON YELCHIN) to do the job. With that not being his thing, he's reluctant to commit, but is intrigued by the offer.

From that point on, the teenage girls must contend with the aftermath of that decision and how things don't go exactly as they planned.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Once that you've decided on a killing
First you make a stone of your heart
And if you find that your hands are still willing
Then you can turn a murder into art

"Murder by Numbers" The Police

I'm certainly no expert on those who kill, how they do it or what they do with their victims' bodies, but I imagine outside of serial killer Ed Gein and his perverse use of body parts, I doubt many murderers look at their behavior as any sort of art.

But filmmakers certainly do, with Gein's acts inspiring Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and Jonathan Demme's "The Silence of the Lambs," among others. There are literally thousands of others films that depict murder in one form or another and they range from crass, exploitative commercialism (with little artistic sense) to imaginative and creative films sporting abundant amounts of filmmaking flair.

"Thoroughbreds" definitely falls into the latter category. It tells the tale of two teenage girls of privilege who've known each other since childhood but grew apart and have now been reunited by the actions of one's mother to hopefully socialize her damaged daughter by pairing her with a seemingly perfectly normal girl.

The first, Amanda (Olivia Cooke), is the sort of teen with a snarky wit who openly speaks her mind without any filter, and that includes self-observation. And her chief personality trait is that she feels no emotion of any kind, positive or negative. She can fake either as needed, but her neutral state allows her to do things such as brutally kill her lame thoroughbred horse (before the film starts) and suggest a viable option for her "play date" partner's thorn.

Unlike her counterpart, Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) feels emotion. But she keeps that tightly bottled up in order to preserve her expected prim and proper demeanor of the hoity-toity country club set in which she lives with her widowed mom and new stepfather (Paul Sparks) who she can't stand. As Amanda sees it, the solution is quite simply -- just murder the man and be done with it.

But she's smart enough to know they'd need an airtight alibi and thus selects low-end, part-time drug dealer Tim (the late Anton Yelchin in his last screen role) to do the deed. That's not how he usually rolls, but the lucrative offer is tempting as he wants to eventually run the town, albeit from the drug kingpin side of the street.

It's a fairly simple and straightforward storyline, but writer/director Cory Finley adds so many artistic flourishes in his impressive big-screen debut that you simply can't take your eyes off the proceedings or his stars (who are terrific in their roles) as everything unfolds and plays out.

The dialogue is suburb in a snarky teenage girl sort of way, the shot selection and cinematography (courtesy of Lyle Vincent) is hypnotic, and the use of sound (including a never seen rowing machine somewhere upstairs in the stepfather's mansion) and stripped down score (from Erik Friedlander) is nothing short of unsettling and give you the feeling you're watching a horror movie.

And in a way you are, as two teenage sociopaths -- one already fully-formed, the other emerging from her cocoon -- plot out a murder. I'll admit that in a world where kids are increasingly responding to negativity with violence, often deadly, it's disturbing watching a film where everything is done so artfully. But art is sometimes present to unsettle and roil those who choose to view it, and Finley and company have done a masterful job of just that.

Certainly not for all viewers but hypnotically engaging and often mesmerizing for those willing to go along for the ride, "Thoroughbreds" is something to behold. It rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed February 22, 2018 / Posted March 9, 2018

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