Monday, January 30, 2017

Sundance with Abe: Thoroughbred

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fourth time. I had the chance to see a number of films and will be posting reviews of everything I see!

Directed by Cory Finley

There are films that tell their stories in a non-linear fashion for the purpose of keeping audience suspense going and revealing important details about events and actions that then provide clarity on whatever happened or was alluded to earlier on. Other films have plots that begin at one clear point and end at another, and it’s figuring out whether the couple will get together or if they’ll solve the murder that provides the intrigue. And then there are films which just begin without addressing where they’re headed, introducing fascinating characters whose conversations slowly lead to some hint about the direction of the film.

Amanda (Olivia Cooke) arrives at the home of her childhood friend Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) under the guise of testing preparation, but the antisocial, standoffish Amanda is well aware that her mother has paid Lily to spend time with her after Amanda’s brush with trouble and notoriety following her violent euthanizing of a wounded horse. As Amanda pressures Lily to be honest with her feelings and not put on a show, Lily’s own unhappiness becomes clear, caused by her horrible stepfather (Paul Sparks). Amanda’s casual comment that they should kill him is initially frightening to Lily, but as their friendship progresses, her attitude begins to change.

This is a fantastically dark film, one featuring two young girls who are wise beyond their years and clever enough to manipulate events around them to their will. The conversations that Amanda and Lily have are captivating, and the dialogue from writer-director Cory Finley is astounding. It is never fully explained how both these girls came to the place where they are, and how it is that they know so much despite rejecting society and disregarding their parents’ influence. That only enhances their effectiveness as characters, devoid of normal human emotions but possessing far more dangerous ideas and capabilities.

Both Cooke and Taylor-Joy were praised by the programming team at Sundance for getting their start at previous festivals; Cooke in the superb “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and Taylor-Joy in the horror film “The Witch” (which I have no plans to see due to its genre). United here, they are both tremendous, creating deeply dark and magnetic characters who say just as much with a dirty look as they do with their carefully-calculated words. Anton Yelchin, in one of his final films, rightfully earns a dedication at the end of the film for his supporting portrayal of a drug dealer approached to off the stepfather, and Sparks was born to play the cold, unkind man who is the object of his stepdaughter’s hatred. This stylized, suspenseful film is easily one of the best at Sundance, featuring spectacular performances and an entrancing, haunting story.


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