“Coltish” Teens in Dark Fable THOROUGHBREDS

2017 AFI Fest

Screened at AFI Fest, Thoroughbreds (2017) is notable for its striking visuals, jarring musical score and the performances of the two young leads. The late Anton Yelchin co-stars in one of his last screen appearances. With advance publicity comparing its “mean girl” aesthetic to Heathers (1988) and Heavenly Creatures (1996), the Sundance critical favorite is also a variation on Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951).

Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a tightly wound, academically challenged rich girl. Her mother arranges for classmate Amanda (Olivia Cooke) to tutor her and hopefully make friends. Unfortunately, Amanda is a sociopath with a sick history of violence. The Parent Trap, it’s not. She’s precocious, cynical and street smart.

Lily’s stepfather Mark (Paul Sparks) is a problem that local drug dealer, Tim (Yelchin), has the skill set to solve. Yes, even a wealthy Connecticut suburb has its share of lowlifes. The price is right but Tim hesitates. Once he takes the money, he’s trapped.

Photo courtesy of AFI Fest

Writer and director Cory Finley is adept at Hitchcockian suspense. At AFI Fest, he spoke about how the film originated with his play, the inherent challenges of bringing it to the screen. He and cinematographer Lyle Vincent drew on “the visual tropes of film noir with light and shadow” and was inspired by “the Steadicam of The Shining.” He also referred to “the operatic emotions” of Taylor-Joy and said that Yelchin was “everyone’s favorite person” on the set and “an incredible improviser.”

Cinematography: Lyle Vincent. Music: Erik Friedlander Editing: Louise Ford.