The well-bred teenagers in the audacious dark comedy “Thoroughbreds” are Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke), affluent Connecticut girls who used to be friends, drifted apart a few years ago, and are hanging out again now. Lily’s father died, replaced by a humorless stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks), who wants to send her to a strict boarding school. Amanda, who claims to feel no emotions whatsoever, has become a pariah since a recent ghastly incident involving a horse, the details of which are teased out over the film. One day Amanda casually asks Lily if she’s ever thought about killing her stepfather. Lily has not ever contemplated such a thing, no, but the words “dark comedy” in the first sentence of this review may suggest where this is going.
First-time filmmaker Cory Finley, a playwright, shows remarkable confidence walking the tightrope between grim humor and provocation, aided by Erik Friedlander’s jaunty, percussive musical score and spot-on performances by Cooke (from “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) and Taylor-Joy (“The Witch”) as bored, privileged girls whose moral emptiness is first funny, then chilling, then sad. Initially it’s emotionless Amanda who seems the most dangerous, but the prim, reserved Lily proves unstable too. The girls’ strangely codependent relationship anchors the film, balanced by the character of Tim (Anton Yelchin, who died shortly after the film was shot), a low-level dirtbag and part-time drug dealer whose tough talk is belied by his soft-spokenness. They try to involve him in their plan to deal with Mark the stepfather — who, it should be noted, isn’t a monster. He doesn’t care about Lily and is gruff with her mother (Kaili Vernoff), but there’s no suggestion he’s violent, disloyal, or cruel. He deserves to be divorced, maybe, but murdered? Oh, well. Rich, unsupervised girls will be girls!
B+ (1 hr., 32 min.; )