Amanda (Olivia Cooke) is somewhat of a pariah in her suburban Connecticut hometown. The reasons why are oddly vague but seem to involve the death of a beloved horse. In happier times, Lily (Anya Tayor-Joy) was her closest friend. It's only after Amanda's mother secretly pays Lily to tutor her that the two teenagers are brought together again in “Thoroughbreds,” which screened Thursday night at Fantastic Fest.
It doesn't initially appear as though they are left with much in common until their conversations turn to murder. In lesser hands, this is a story line that could have been predictable, but Taylor-Joy and Cooke are a true delight to watch. The rekindling of their friendship and the bond they rebuild is convincing. Amanda's struggle with emotional connections and Lily's lack of empathy are ideal indicators that something dark is ahead.
The final piece of the puzzle is Tim (Anton Yelchin), a local ne'er-do-well who bides his time on the sex offender registry by washing dishes in a nursing home, with a little lightweight drug dealing on the side. His weaknesses are easily exploited, and before long he's involved in the girls' plan whether he wants to be or not.
Writer/director Cory Finley originally conceived the story as a play, but as interest in the project grew, it was adapted into a screenplay without actually being produced for the stage. The format -- split into chapters that are slowly brought to life on the big screen -- allows for more dynamic set design decisions. The often shadowy cinematography is accompanied by a hypnotic and foreboding score that highlights the downward spiral of decisions made by our leads.
After all of the pre-festival furor this year, it was a wonderful surprise to have such a powerful, female-centric story as my first film out of the gate. Also notable: This is Yelchin's final screen performance before his tragic death last year.
"Thoroughbreds" screens again at Fantastic Fest at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 28. The film was acquired earlier this year by Focus Features, and you can expect a 2018 release.
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