Lyric movie review: ‘Thoroughbreds’ offers a dark, psychological ride

Nick Botkin


The poster for Cory Finley's 2018 movie, "Thoroughbreds"
“Thoroughbreds” offers a powerful psychological and character-driven experience for viewers. (Photo courtesy of Focus Pictures)

A character compares engaging in murder to Steve Jobs.


If that sounds “outside the box,” to quote said character, it is. Outside the box aptly describes the plot of Cory Finley’s “Thoroughbreds.” The plot focuses on two former friends, Lily and Amanda, plotting to murder Lily’s emotionally abusive stepfather. But this is just a surface level story that reveals psychological dysfunction. 

In a world where movies insist on overtly telling viewers how to feel, subtlety reigns. The movie’s protagonists are well-developed, immensely flawed, yet empathetic. They are contrasting in some ways, yet all too similar.

Lily lives among the suburban beau monde with her mother and stepfather, Mark. She also tutors Amanda, which is how the former friends reenter each other’s lives. She tries to live in a world of illusions, tiptoeing around the unsaid with a certain fragility. In particular, Lily pretends to have a respectable internship and avoids admitting that she has been kicked out of boarding school. But in a home with a cold stepfather and a detached mother who literally hides in a tanning machine, illusions are difficult to maintain.

Amanda suffers from a disorder. Said disorder derives her of the inability to feel emotions or act appropriately. One might infer Amanda is a sociopath. She deems the sanctity of life “Puritan bullshit” and compares people to pieces of “malfunctioning machinery.” Even the fact that her mother has paid Lily to tutor and spend time with her leaves Amanda unfazed. However, these traits allow her to serve as a foil to Lily and her illusions. 

“I just think you should be honest about your feelings,” Amanda says. 

Given Amanda’s particular sensibilities or lack thereof, it is not surprising that Amanda flippantly suggests that they kill Mark. However, Lily does not agree until after Mark demeans her mother and enrolls her in a boarding school for troubled youths.

As Amanda is under investigation for animal cruelty, and unable to do the job herself, she and Lily seek outside help. They hire an ambitious drug dealer, Tim, to undertake the task. And this where the movie takes a number of constant twists, including Tim’s inability to go through with the murder.

Director: Cory Finley

Genre: Drama

Starring: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin

Release date: Mar 9, 2018

Now playing at: The Lyric Cinema

I will not give much away, but suffice it to say Lily takes the initiative. Further darkness ensues, including an aborted attempt to frame Amanda for the murder. A scene with Lily and Amanda on a couch, both drenched in blood, is particularly haunting. It illustrates how truly broken and ignored both characters are.

While the movie is strong overall, including a haunting score replete with execution style drumbeats, it has its occasional shortcomings. The movie’s title references Amanda’s  horse, which meets its end at her own hands. Yet we do not find out the horse’s significance to the movie’s broader themes until the end. Even the symbolism of the horse, which represents being unfettered, is too convenient.

Should you see this movie? Absolutely, if you are into dark, character driven pieces.

I also felt the movie could have dug further into Lily’s backstory. Her father’s death hangs over her emotionally, yet this event is not further explored. Understanding Lily’s connection to her father, especially given the present circumstances, would add more emotional gravitas. In a well-done character driven piece, this is vital.


Collegian reporter  Nick Botkin can be reached at His Twitter handle is @dudesosad.