Thoroughbreds (2017) – Film Review

A transitory game of chess within Thoroughbreds (2017): featuring a modern suburban slasher!

No Guts, No Glory

Thoroughbreds (2017) is a film directed by Cory Finley about two wealthy suburban ex-friends who have since fallen apart throughout the years they spent in high school. Here, Anya Taylor-Joy plays a by-the-books girl named Lily who lives with her mother and her filthy rich step-dad Mark. As with most instances of step-parentry, it seems our dear Lily has a bone to pick with the newest addition to their family. Mark can be described, if spoken truthfully, as a prestigious and pompous power-hogging pig. In laymen’s terms: Mark’s an asshole. A real big asshole. The “abusive to my mom but he gets away with it because he’s got money and supports us financially” kind of asshole. There’s no way to get around it; Lily just has to learn to tolerate him. That is, at least, until her old gal pal Amanda, played by Olivia Cooke, crawls back into her life and suggests an alternative. At first, Lily wants nothing more from Amanda than some extra cash for tutoring her for the SAT. But after opening up to one another over a bottle of Mark’s stolen wine, Lily discovers her childhood friend may have more uses than just that simple monetary gain. After all, what’s a little cash compared to justice by your own hand?

There’s nothing wrong with being a little unstable. 

This film’s got it all; good sound design, strong acting, intriguing and deep characters, anxiety-boosting conflict, and BBH’s (big, beautiful houses). It also includes a single (1) horse. Truthfully, the film should be called “Thoroughbred” since there’s only one horse, but I digress. I think this film is definitely worth your time. If I had to rate it, I’d give it around 4.5/5 stars. Although Thoroughbreds (2017) left me with some strange feelings afterwards, watching the personalities of Lily and Amanda develop and change throughout the films 90-minute run time was definitely worth the ride.

This next paragraph will include spoilers.

All Guts, and Some Spine Too

The rekindling of a friendship is not something done so easily when your childhood companion has recently executed a stallion. Yeah, you heard me PETA. Amanda killed her decrepit steed with her own bare hands. Of course, I am over-exaggerating a bit. You see, it wasn’t a killing out of malice, but instead was done out of mercy. Honeymooner, Amanda’s racehorse who she won many medals with in her younger years, had broken his leg and was reported to never be able to walk again. When Amanda hears of this, she sees it as a cruelty for the horse to live any longer, and discusses it with her mother to see what can be done. As Honeymooner has been a member of their family for a long time, just as long as Amanda has been alive, the mother let’s her emotions get the best of her and doesn’t allow for him to be put down by a veterinarian. This, of course, is seen by Amanda to be an illogical move from her mother, manifested from her birth-giver’s weak moral character. She then takes up the responsibility to put the horse down herself as this was, in her mind, the most logical thing to do.

While the execution involved failed euthanasia, flesh-stripping, bone-breaking, and spine-smashing, none of this seemed to bother Amanda much. You see, contrary to most sane humans, Amanda doesn’t feel emotion. She may get tired or hungry, but when it comes to joy or guilt or remorse, it just doesn’t come to her. It was easy for Amanda to kill Honeymooner, and she didn’t revel in it either. She just felt it was something that had to be done.

This unethical act unsurprisingly lands Amanda with an animal cruelty offense, but she continues her life while awaiting trial, although she feels her existence may not have much purpose. When this is all explained to Lily, she realizes that her friend is not necessarily insane but instead just exceptionally logical when it comes to solving conflicts. Amanda’s lack of pathos results in her thinking of every scenario as a math problem: whats the most effective possible outcome and how can I get there the fastest? She does not hesitate, she makes a choice and she follows it immediately.

The Master Plan

While rummaging through Mark’s wine cellar, Amanda proposes to Lily that she should just kill her step-father. In this scenario, Amanda sees Mark as the lame horse, not functioning effectively either as a father or as a good husband to Lily’s mother, and therefore feels justified in suggesting they kill him. Doubling down on her logic, Amanda states that it would benefit a large amount of people and have very low outcomes in terms of repercussions; plus, if planned correctly, they could avoid being caught altogether. Lily gets mad and kicks Amanda out of her house, disagreeing with the brash girls way of thinking and her “lame horses should be put down” ideals. As the film progresses, Lily comes around to the idea though, and proposes they talk to their local child-molesting drug-dealer and try to hire him to pull a hit on Mark. After the delinquent falls through, however, Lily returns to the house to find Mark is still alive and kicking. She decides she will have no more of this and takes manners into her own hands.

Making Your Mark

On a seemingly regular night sitting on the couch with Amanda, Lily asks her if she believes her life is worth living. Amanda is taken aback by this on accounts of her not having thought of it before. After turning it over in her head for a bit, she decides that it isn’t, and asks Lily why she asked such a question while taking a sip of her lemonade. “If you can’t feel happiness, if you don’t have a good future, is life even worth living?” It appears in this case that it is, as Amanda’s lack of goal or purpose allows her to be a signature component of Lily’s plan. Lily informed Amanda that she tried drugging her lemonade in order to knock her out, kill her stepdad with a knife, and frame it on her. Amanda is not offended however, and instead drinks all of her lemonade in order to knock herself out and help Lily continue with her plan. By taking control of the situation and catalyzing Lily’s plan, Amanda acts as a martyr in order for her friend to succeed in her goal to end Mark’s life. Lily goes through with it, framing (consenting) Amanda for the murder of her step-father and landing her in a mental hospital. Amanda again doesn’t mind this because she believes it’s the most logical thing to do. Her friend is miserable because of Mark and she herself has no life purpose, so she believes the best option is to be take the fall for it and let Lily come out victorious.

By the end of the film, it’s almost as if our two protagonists have shifted personas. Lily now walks around town like the queen she is, giving everybody cold stares and presenting very little emotion while being more stern and logical. Amanda, on the other hand, spends her jailbird days painting and crocheting with all the other locked up loonies in there. She doesn’t mind it though. She tells Lily in a letter that the staff there are very nice for the most part. She explains a recurring dream to Lily too, one where all the people in the world are rich and can’t take their heads out of the material things in the world. Time passes and everything rots away, only leaving the thoroughbred horses. They roam the planet with no worry of their value or goal in life but instead just enjoy being wild animals. In this sense, the girls are the thoroughbreds. They do what they please, they roam with no rules and they live with power in their hands. They aren’t afraid of what will be done to them, they know that if the world ever falls apart and all the filthy rich bastard rot in place, they will be there still. They’ll gallop over fields of grass and drink from clear rivers and clop over debilitated houses. In a way, they both used each other, but it was a mutual gain. Lily learned how to be cold and got rid of the person who hurt her family the most, while Amanda learned how to see beauty in the small and insignificant, and even learned how to smile without looking in a mirror. She might’ve ended up in confinement, but she doesn’t care so long as she had a reason to live for.

All in all, Thoroughbreds (2017) is definitely a film you shouldn’t miss. That is, if you can handle topics such as murder, patricide, drug use, and other not-so-innocent topics.

Written by: Fabrizio Ramirez

Possum (2018) – Film Review

A Temporary Glimpse into the World of Possum (2018): An Absolutely Gripping Fever Dream of a Film.

All Bones, No Meat

I like my films how I like my sexual encounters; confusing, without context, and unsure of what’s going on for the majority of the time. A wise man (me) once said media is best experienced when you have the least amount of context going into them. No trailers, no spoilers, just a cool-sounding title and a summary of a few sentences to spice up your interest. So when it comes to the 2018 film Possum, directed by Matthew Holness, here it is:

A small talking man, aged by torment, has returned to his childhood home after serving in the military. After his service, he takes up puppeteering, but it doesn’t go too well. Maybe because his puppet is a giant disgusting, wound-ridden spider with a human head, glass eyes, and a hundred-yard stare. The house he returns to isn’t empty though; when he arrives he finds his filthy uncle Maurice has been living there for some time now. The plot revolves around dream-like montages of our dear puppeteer Philip returning to different places significant to his childhood as he attempts to figure out the secrets of his past and the house he now lives in.

There’s your summary. That’s ALL you get. Go watch it, it’s fantastic, I gave it 4/5 stars (that’s a high score from me). If you feel intrigued but don’t care about spoilers, or if you’ve already watched it, stay for a bit while I go into detail about this film, and probably end up digging deeper than necessary.

*TRIGGER WARNING: This film includes themes of abuse and sexual assault. If you are uncomfortable with these concepts or themes please don’t watch/read about this film. If you or someone you know is dealing with abuse trouble and need help, call this number:
National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline – 800.656.HOPE (4673)
Thank you and enjoy the rest of the review.*

 

!!! SPOILER WARNING !!!

All Meat, Boneless

Alright sweet, now that we’ve thinned the herd a little bit, let’s talk about this movie.

Possum (2018) follows what I would call “dream logic.” Numerous scenes of the film happen out of order or with fractures in between, with the camera taking a break from what’s really happening to Phillip and instead catching a shot of some yellow and orange balloons beginning to smoke up, black rain pouring from the sky, and seeing that dreadful Possum puppet everywhere he goes. Possum is filmed in such a way that it gradually reveals more and more of the horrifying Possum puppet to the audience, representing Philip’s reawakening demons as well as both the audience and Philip slowly beginning to realize that Uncle Maurice has more to do with his trauma than Philip thinks.

Some shots seem to be glimpses into Philip’s memory, showing places he’s been in before, just empty with no one else in them. The film doesn’t have many human characters in it, making it seem just as lonely as Phillip is. However, that isn’t to say that the film lacks character; Sean Harris (who plays Philip) delivers a haunting performance that keeps a tight grip of your attention through the entirety of Possum’s 85-minute run time. Speaking of acting, Harris’ movements throughout the film are very reminiscent of child-like mannerisms and insecurities. Looking over his shoulder while he runs away nervously, sweaty hands held together in front of him like a toddler would when anxious from potential danger, curling up into the fetal position and crying when feeling threatened and whining like an unwanting baby when confronted. These all contribute to the ever-present truth of poor Phillip’s corrupted innocence, which is fed to the audience generously throughout.

What Does It Mean?

On the topic of symbolism, this film is full, simply bursting with it. If you like shots of random things representing other aspects or themes found in the movie, you’re in luck because this film has TONS of that. Here’s a quick list of all the symbols that I could find on the first viewing:

  • The yellow and orange balloons floating inside a children’s room represent Phillip’s original childhood ignorance, while the black smoke enveloping them represents the death of his parents (from the fire that Uncle Maurice started in Phillip’s house) as well as the corruption or ‘blackening’ of childhood innocence.
  • The nursery rhyme, “Mother, Father, what’s afoot? Only Possum, black as soot” bridges the gap between the purity of his younger years and the hell he now endures every day, walking around trying to live while being haunted by his past, feeling the eyes of his abuser on him at all times.
  • The black rain pouring from the sky, tainting everything it touches with its necro-colored pollution, is a symbol of Phillip feeling that his whole world is being overcome by insanity.
  • The immortal fox which can be beaten until dead and rotten, but somehow always stands back up and walks away, is a symbol of the anguish he feels and his inability to get rid of it.
  • The surrounding area is full of forests with many dead trees and warped branches, symbolizing the spindly, disgusting spider legs of the Possum.
  • While on the topic of spider legs, those in themselves are a symbol for fingers. If you haven’t seen the last 10 minutes of the film, there’s a LOT of fingers involved.
  • And last but not least, the Possum. Phillip’s dead-eyed spider puppet symbolizes multiple things; his fractured or suffering mental state, his abusive uncle Maurice (who we later discover is the man who’s been abducting and molesting many children in the area, who also raped him when he was young), and Philip’s desire to release this trauma from his life. Wherever he goes, no matter how hard he tries to get rid of it, the Possum is always there. Creeping up close behind him, watching him from afar, waking up with it in his bed, menacing him with his long, hairy appendages. There is no escape, you can’t break it or burn it, you can’t leave it all behind, because pain and memories aren’t physical things. The only way to get rid of abuse is to do away with the abuser.

Speculation Abomination

When Uncle Maurice says, “Waking up is it? Wants to get out” he’s referring to Phillip’s growing suspicion that Maurice is actually the one that raped him.

The green candies Maurice offers to Phillip could potentially be drugs that knock him out and allow for Maurice to get up to his dirty deeds. They could also be just regular candies that Maurice used to coerce Phillip into doing gross things or letting Maurice abuse him more.

The nature of the name ‘Possum’ for the puppet could be significant in that it mirrors how Phillip acts. Possums (the animal) are known to be cowardly and play dead when frightened, which is something Phillip does when he’s put into an uncomfortable situation. When he throws the Possum off the bridge, he too acts like a possum, slams into the mud, and curls up in a ball while he experiences horrible flashbacks.

Final Thoughts

This movie is really good and it is worth your time. It makes you feel more uncomfortable and slimy than scared, but the single most terrifying scene of the whole movie is well deserved. I literally threw my laptop when Uncle Maurice jumped out of the shadows. Please support this film, I genuinely recommend it.

Written by: Fabrizio Ramirez