Is there a more frightening creature in the movies than a bored, amoral teenage girl?
Give the pale princess endless cash and endless free time and problems that seem to visit only the super-rich (in the movies) and you just know the monied minx is capable of anything.
“Thoroughbreds” is a dry chiller of a thriller, pairing up two pretty and put-together young things in conversations that start awkward, bend to uncomfortable and twist towards murder. It’s disquieting and then disturbing, almost from start to finish.
Amanda (Olivia Cooke of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) is a perpetually deadpan teen dropped off to study with Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), the too-too-perfect princess of her own — OK, her stepfather’s — Connecticut castle.
They go to private school together. Or did. Amanda’s done something awful to a horse. Lily is so buttoned down and repressed she never says the wrong thing. Or is that fear?
Amanda is a bust at school, she confesses. Again, deadpan. She expects to “Steve Jobs my way through life,” thanks to her business savvy.
But Lily is the one who took money from Amanda’s mom for this “play date.” Not that she admits it. She withstands Amanda’s soul-dead interrogations for a reason. Got to be money.
Amanda claims “I don’t have any feelings. Ever. ‘Anti-social with schizoid tendencies…Doesn’t make me a bad person.”
Actually, it kind of does, dear.
Lily is, in spite of appearances, a lonely soul. She’s unhappy at home. Her callous step-dad (Paul Sparks) is a cold-hearted narcissist and a bit of a creeper. It takes a lot of prodding, poking and provoking from Amanda to get this simple admission out of Lily.
“You’re incredibly off-putting and you creep me out…You smell.”
These two hugging each other is the most unnatural act committed to film since that kid had sex with a peach in “Call Me By Your Name.”
Amanda, it turns out, can dish it out but can’t take it. Lily is miserable and only expects to be more so, and won’t do anything about it. Naturally enough (?) their conversation turns to murder.
The late Anton Yelchin plays Tim, an alumnus of this world, now a drug dealer and big talking hustler whose James Franco/Roman Polanski taste for under-age girls got him a stint in prison.
“You have no idea where I come from!”
The all-powerful, taunting-provoking mean girls will use this weak-willed heel to carry out whatever fiendish plot they concoct.
Writer-director Corey Finley makes his feature directing debut a film of foreboding style and ominous tones. He keeps his harpies in extreme closeup, emphasizing the care and grooming and dead eyes of his protagonists. The music is all percussion in the early “Chapters,” with the score filling out as each chapter passes.
The settings have the airless silence of cinematic space ships, adding tension to the never-innocuous conversation chess-matches these two seriously messed-up shrews have.
I like the way their back-stories are filled in a lot more than I enjoyed the too-pat resolution to the story’s central dilemma. But Cooke and Taylor-Joy (of “Split”) make fascinating “Heavenly Creatures,” anti-Lolitas — asexual, antiseptic and heartless. One is more understandable than the other, but calling either “sympathetic” would be a stretch.
And Focus Features was wise to hold this, Yelchin’s last movie, to allow time to pass after his accidental death. Stripped of sentimentality, his turn shows the antsy energy and juvenile vulnerability he never got the chance to grow out of. Here, he gets a compact showcase, one last chance to show what made him special and his death such a loss.
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing behavior, bloody images, language, sexual references, and some drug content
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Anya-Taylor Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks
Credits: Written and directed by Corey Finley. A Focus Features release.