‘Thoroughbreds’ an intense viewing experience

By Heidi Cho
Arts & Entertainment Editor 

“Thoroughbreds” is an independent drama/thriller film released on March 9 to audiences across the U.S. The film is dedicated to the late Anton Yelchin, who portrayed the character Tim.

The late Anton Yelchin playing Tim. (Youtube)

Amanda (Olivia Cooke) is a social outcast who cannot feel anything. Lily Reynolds (Anya Taylor-Joy) is Amanda’s best friend by default. Lily can feel emotions but lacks empathy. In a horrific and riveting tale, the two estranged teenagers from affluent suburban Connecticut plan to murder Mark, Lily’s rich step dad.

Mark financially supports Lily and her mother, but is emotionally neglectful. His presence is intimidating and his callous mannerisms make audience members wince.

Fueled by emotion, Lily makes a series of rash decisions that would put anyone with less money in jail. The audience watches as Lily’s morality and reservations break down, a process enabled by Amanda.

Together, Amanda and Lily are a perfectly deadly bomb and detonator. They play off of each other like two tennis players at Wimbledon. It’s hard to pull your eyes away from the pair as they tear through a fast-paced script that makes quips even faster.

As partners in crime, the two are the perfect good cop-bad cop to set up Tim, the local lowlife. Yelchin manages to portray the struggle of Tim in a way that elicits pity from the audience for the statutory rapist. The character has no money, unlike the teenage protagonists that blackmail him into murder. Even though Tim was underwritten, Yelchin turns his minimal screen time into a memorable final performance.

Despite Amanda’s characterization as a deadpan teenager without any remorse or hesitation in her actions, she irrationally keeps a picture of Lily and herself from when they were younger and still openly best friends. Even if it is feigned attachment, Amanda is a self-proclaimed excellent imitator who works off her keen observations of other people.

Lily holds no similar sentiment towards Amanda, who she uses to get what she wants. Once Lily knows Amanda is capable of carrying out murder, Lily reconnects with her not for sentimental reasons, but to ask her to kill Mark. Tim asks Lily repeatedly if she wants to be dragged down by Amanda, but as the story goes on, it seems obvious that Lily is the one set on digging someone’s, if not her own, grave.

The cinematography heightens the suspense by partially obscuring the surrounding environment. Sometimes, the camera tracked someone closely down tight hallways and stairwells. At other times, the camera zooms in on emotional focal pieces, like an unconscious body or the sunglass-covered eyes of someone listening to a brutal recounting of murder.

Like pointillism, the film gives the audience more than enough dots to connect to see the bigger picture. Similar to impressionism, the film visually and audibly focuses on the emotional responses of characters to the unfolding events, rather than the plot points themselves.

The audience never gets a full sense of what is happening beyond the shot. The unapologetically ambivalent framing intentionally leaves elements like action or bloodshed out of frame, even if they are central to the scene.

Juxtaposition of color and humor kept the film visually and dynamically riveting. The humor was as misplaced as a whoopee cushion in a funeral home, but funny nonetheless.

Warm and cold colors signaled that there were opposing sides at play. When Tim wore red, Amanda wore blue while informing Tim how to murder Mark. When Amanda wore blue, Lily’s couch pillows were orange while Lily was conspiring against her.

The score only elevated the tense atmosphere. The soundtrack is ridden with broken and discordant strings, African percussion and noises perhaps made from a steel wire box or waterphone, instruments typical in horror movies. The indigenous throat singing helped keep the mood strung like a steel wire about to snap.

The sound design further unnerved audiences by making the mundane uncomfortable capturing everyday noises like chewing chips or crinkling bags and making them seem eerie and unnatural. The simple rowing of the ergometer machine — distorted and nightmarish — echoed through the entire house.

Unfortunately, whatever realism the film had left was broken at the climax. When planning the murder, the characters accounted for forensics and alibis, but when it counted most, all of that was thrown out. The murder would also have been a good point to release the mounting suspense, but the film does not allow the audience any catharsis.

The movie does a great job of unsettling audience members and keeping them guessing until the end. It lays bare the fact that every relationship is open to manipulation and everyone gets used by one another, and questions the usefulness of empathy for the rich and what meaning life holds at all.