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Film / Thoroughbreds

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"Good breeding gone bad."

Thoroughbreds is a Black Comedy thriller starring Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy, and written and directed by Cory Finley (in his directorial debut.) It was actually filmed in 2016 and premiered at Sundance in 2017, but did not get a theatrical release until March 2018.

The film's plot involves a couple of upper class teenagers, Amanda and Lily. The pair used to be friends when they were younger, but grew apart over time. Amanda is an emotionless sociopath, while Lily is overly emotional but the more socially and academically gifted of the two. They begin hanging out again initially so Lily can tutor Amanda, but soon develop a plot to murder Lily's emotionally abusive stepfather Mark (Paul Sparks).

The film is notable for being Anton Yelchin's last movie, as he died in a freak auto-related accident exactly two weeks after filming.

Thoroughbreds provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: While Mark largely refrains from physical violence (aside from grabbing her wrist once), he displays some blatant emotionally abusive behavior towards Lily, insulting and belittling her at every opportunity.
  • The Aggressive Drug Dealer: Tim is a wannabe drug dealer with delusions of grandeur. He only sells to children, and aggressively tries to push his merch at a teen party even after being asked to leave by the guests.
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • Did Lily really throw Amanda's letter away?
    • Why did Amanda drink the roofied drink? Was it because she thought she belonged in a hospital, or was she genuinely hurt by Lily's betrayal?
  • Animal Motifs: Horses.
    • First, the word "thoroughbred." This can refer to a purebred racing horse (like Amanda's horse), or a person of upper-class breeding (like Lily and Amanda).
    • Amanda compares killing Mark, or anyone else who does more bad than good, to putting down a horse with a broken leg — unpleasant, but ultimately for the best.
    • In the backstory, Amanda attempted to Mercy Kill her horse, but it wound up being a brutally violent act. This shows both Amanda's relative moral code, and her willingness to kill if she thinks it's for the greater good.
    • In one scene, Amanda plays around with a giant chess set Lily's family has in their garden. Special prominence is given to the knights — the pieces shaped like horses.
    • In the end, Amanda writes to Lily about a dream she has, where humans all die and all the horses roam free.
  • Apologetic Attacker: A mixed version. Lily regrets trying to drug Amanda and warns her, but Amanda still drinks the drugged screwdriver and Lily still goes through with the murder. She later cries and holds an unconscious Amanda for comfort.
  • Arranged Friendship: Though Amanda and Lily were genuine friends at one point, they grew apart when Lily went to boarding school, while Amanda is friendless due to her very off-putting personality. When Lily returns home, she invites Amanda to hang out and study for the SATs. Amanda, who has been reading her mother's emails, knows that Lily is charging (and haggling) over it. Lily denies it but Amanda says she doesn't mind, she just doesn't want Lily to pretend she's not charging. They have one other arranged meeting, before becoming genuine friends.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Mark. While he mostly refrains from physical abuse to Lily, he's so rude, nasty, and aggressive that it seems unlikely anyone will feel any sympathy for him even after Lily kills him.
    • Amanda is a deconstruction. She's an asshole by her own admission, but the end is, at best, bittersweet for her.
  • Bleed 'Em and Weep: Lily cries after murdering Mark, and holds an unconscious Amanda for comfort.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Amanda has a strange moral system. She believes that murder is okay if the victim is deserving, she doesn't mind that her mother has to "buy" friends for her, but is offended by Lily’s lying about it, and is obviously very confused when Lily asks her to leave after Amanda casually suggested that Lily should kill Mark.
  • Brutal Honesty: Amanda is not shy about saying what's on her mind.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Regarding the sword in Mark's office... completely subverted!
  • Cold Open: The movie starts with Amanda inside a stable at night with a horse, picking up a knife. It's later revealed that she killed the horse as a Mercy Kill.
  • Crocodile Tears: "The Technique." Amanda, who literally lacks the ability to cry from emotion, is a master.
  • Disappeared Dad: Lily's father died in the backstory. Amanda's is never seen nor mentioned.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: During his Establishing Character Moment, Tim is confronted by a partygoer for having sex with his high school-aged sister when he was 25. Tim corrects him by saying he dated her when he was 23.
  • Do Wrong, Right:
    • Amanda has no problem with Lily wanting to kill her stepfather. However, she's very insistent that they do it for the right reasons.
    • This also applies to how she killed her horse. For what it's worth, Amanda truly intended to give the animal a quick death, for what she felt were necessary reasons.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The movie has a recurring horse motif, but the title also refers to the main characters' upper class status.
  • Downer Ending: Lily gets away with murdering Mark and framing Amanda. While Amanda is stuck in an institution, Lily moves on and is about to get into college. When Amanda writes a meaningful letter about her dreams, Lily throws it away without reading it (or at least that's what she tells Tim). The only silver lining is that Amanda adjusts well to her new life and actually seems to be able to experience genuine emotions again, as evidenced by her smile when looking at a photo of her and Lily as kids riding horses.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Lily has pitch-black hair, paper-white skin, and spends most of the film contemplating murder. And she goes through with it.
  • Emotionless Girl: Amanda. She generally creeps everyone out and is completely unfazed by everything, though she argues it doesn't make her a bad person. Lily becomes more cold by the end, while Amanda begins to feel.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: Present throughout, with the first scene after the Cold Open being a good example.
  • Foil: Amanda and Lily. Amanda is an Emotionless Girl who compels Lily to murder Mark, while Lily is shown to be the more emotionally-driven of the two. By the end, Lily is colder, while Amanda is finally shown emoting.
  • Freudian Excuse:
    • It's implied Lily never got over the death of her father.
    • Mark, too, references that his own father would beat him for disobedience or imagined disobedience.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Amanda agrees to take the fall for Lily's murder of Mark.
  • Hourglass Plot: Former best friends Lily and Amanda. Lily is an apparently extremely empathic and kind, albeit image-conscious, teenage girl who is thrown into a tailspin when her bullying stepfather Mark plans to send her away to a bad boarding-school. Amanda is a resolute underachiever and a sociopath with a bad reputation and no feelings who is awaiting trial for animal cruelty. However, as the film progresses, Amanda learns that Lily is far from perfect — she got thrown out of school for plagiarism and is lying about her prestigious internship. While Amanda is guilty of animal cruelty, it actually resulted from a botched attempt to euthanize her horse. Finally, Lily tells Amanda that she doesn't think her life is worth living since she doesn't have emotions, roofies her, and then brutally murders Mark and frames her for it. Lily also gets away with everything and inherits Mark's vast fortune, but emerges from the experience icy-cold. Amanda, meanwhile, goes to a psychiatric hospital where she genuinely enjoys herself and is shown reminiscing with genuine happiness about her and Lily's past as kids.
  • Ironic Echo: "It's only weird if you make it weird."
  • Jerkass: Mark is such an asshole that viewers are likely to agree with Amanda that the world would be better off without him.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While Mark's lecture to Lily is needlessly cruel, even Amanda has to admit that his assessment of Lily as a Spoiled Brat who lacks empathy for others is not totally inaccurate.
  • Karma Houdini: Lily stabs Mark to death at the end of the movie and frames Amanda for it (although Amanda gives her permission to frame her).
  • Mercy Kill: Amanda killed her own horse before the events of the film because it had broken a leg and her mother didn't have the courage to euthanize it. However, since Amanda was ill-prepared, what was supposed to be a quick, painless death turned into a very drawn-out and bloody process.
  • Mirror Character:
    • Amanda and Lily. They appear to be total opposites, as Lily is a preppy, high-achieving Stepford Smiler with an excellent reputation, and Amanda is a sociopath with absolutely no friends or moral scruples. But Lily has also been faking most of this all along; she was also thrown out and ostracized from her old school, and she murders Mark and frames Amanda for it rather than go to boarding school.
    • Perhaps more disturbingly, Lily and Mark. Mark is a total asshole and obsessive Control Freak who painfully grabs her wrist on one occasion. However, Lily herself shows that she can be extremely violent towards Mark when he threatens to dismantle her perfect life, which is symbolically represented by her taking his car after she kills him and gets away with it.
  • Moral Sociopathy: Amanda. She doesn't feel anything — not guilt, fear, happiness, sadness, or even anger. However, she says that she can still be a good person, she just has to work harder at it than most. She's still perfectly willing to kill Mark, but says it's because he does more bad than good; the way she sees it, human life isn't inherently sacred, and some people are better off dead. She also claims she only killed her horse because he was in pain and going to die anyway, and her mother refused to take him to the vet to have him put down. She also tried to do it quickly and painlessly, though it didn't work out that way. She's never cruel just for the sake of it, and willingly takes the fall for Lily in the end, so she does seem to follow a code. Her code is just different.
  • Off to Boarding School: Mark wants to send Lily to a boarding school for girls with behavior issues.
  • The Oner: All over the place. Shots can go on for well over a minute. The shot where Amanda passes out, Lily goes upstairs to kill her stepfather, and then comes back downstairs to frame Amanda goes on for about three minutes.
  • Plagiarism in Fiction: It's revealed that Lily was kicked out of school for plagiarism.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Lily's the emotional, indulgent red, while Amanda is the emotionless, pragmatic blue.
  • Rich People: Most of the characters in the film are rich.
  • Role Swap Plot: The whole movie is a variant. It sets up a premise: Lily is the popular, well-adjusted, empathic, and emotional one, while Amanda is the disturbing, cold, and sociopathic one who is completely without empathy. By the end of the film, Lily has murdered Mark, framed Amanda, and gotten away with it, apparently without any remorse whatsoever, while Amanda has sacrificed herself and actually enjoys life in a psychiatric ward, where she is at last able to feel genuine happiness when she remembers Lily, who has apparently abandoned her.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Tim bails on the plan to murder Mark at the first opportunity, knowing the girls can't report him. Amanda and Lily decide to cut their losses and let him go.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Lily spikes Amanda's drink with a knockout drug. She regrets it and warns Amanda, but Amanda drinks it willingly.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: The contrast between Amanda, who wears plain, unflattering clothes, doesn't wear much makeup, and admits to not showering often, and Lily, who's always impeccably dressed, well-groomed, and elegant. Unlike the stereotypes associated with the trope, it's Amanda who's cool and collected, and Lily who's emotional and volatile.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Amanda clearly suffers from some kind of antisocial psychological disorder but is the more sympathetic of the two girls.
  • Sound-Only Death: We only hear Mark falling to the floor as Lily stabs him, while the camera lingers on Amanda sleeping downstairs.
  • Spoiled Brat: Although she tries to deny it, Lily often acts like she is entitled to a better life than others. Her unwillingness to take give up her privileged and sheltered lifestyle by going to boarding school forms a large part of her motivation to murder her stepfather.
  • Stepford Smiler: Played for Drama a thousand times over.
    • Lily's mom is a much calmer version, as while she seems obsessed with making her cruel husband happy, she doesn't do anything actively malicious to achieve this.
    • Lily herself is a highly dramatic version. She responds extremely — and violently — if Mark ever threatens to blow her perfect façade.
  • Symbolic Serene Submersion: Lily and Amanda play a game to see who can hold their breath longest underwater. Lily holds hers for an extremely long time, and Amanda gets concerned and swims down to pull Lily up, which is symbolic of Lily's growing murderous feelings for her stepfather and foreshadowing that while Lily will eventually commit the murder, Amanda is the one who takes the fall for it, almost gladly.
  • Taking the Heat: At the end of the film, Lily decides to drug Amanda, murder Mark, and then frame Amanda for it. Lily has a change of heart at the last minute and confesses, but Amanda tells her to go through with the plan anyway.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Lily spikes Amanda's vodka screwdriver with roofies in order to act out the plan seen in Taking the Heat. Amanda chugs the drink and tells her to go for it.
  • Tap on the Head: Amanda knocks Tim out with a lamp.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Lily and Amanda did.
  • Was It All a Lie?: Upon finding out Amanda literally cannot feel, Lily understandably wonders this about their whole friendship. Amanda seems to like her as much as she is able, but admits she faked crying at Lily's dad's funeral.
  • White Anglo-Saxon Protestant: Lily is a classic example, though she denies being a snob.