Review – A Horse of a Different Color (“Thoroughbreds”)

Forget the current dismal remakes in town and go see this rare gem; a film that looks like it’s directed by Wes Anderson, maybe written by Kelly Freemon Craig (The Edge of Seventeen), and possibly scored by someone from those Conjuring series. But it’s not!

Welcome to Connecticut, homes of the ultra-rich and Lily Reynolds (Anya Taylor-Joy),  a repressed prim ‘n’ proper teenager whose porcelain veneer hides her internal suffering. Not only is she desperate to get back into the prestigious boarding school where she was expelled, but her wealthy new excercize-crazy step-father, Mark (Paul Sparks) is a world class dick. But life throws Lily a curve ball when she begins to tutor her former elementary school friend, Amanda (Olivia Cooke), an emotionless sociopathic teen whose everything Lily isn’t. And you know what they say about opposites attracting, right?

Amanda gets Lily to open up about her true feelings, forming an unlikely friendship. This comes in handy when Amanda coyly suggests that they murder Lily’s brutal step-dad. Not exactly appalled at the idea, Lily has Amanda concoct their alibi: get an uninterested third party to do the killing, but who? Why the local drug dealer in town who’s also a loser, of course! Scruffy-looking nerf-herder Tim (Anton Yelchin, in his final film role), isn’t quite sure about the murder, but the 100K they’re offering is looking awfully good.

But just like Annie Oakley (“anything you can do, I can do better”), the girls decide to take over after Tim botches his assignment. This is not your average movie with a set-up, reveal, and then an ending; it’s so much more than that. First time director & writer Cory Finley (yes, this is his FIRST theatrical release) doesn’t play it safe in either his writing or directing. A darkly comedic script that has the delicious witty banter of Craig or Aaron Sorkin, with some Hitchcockian twists ‘n’ turns thrown in, Finley’s unconventional and unpredictable writing makes this movie so very watchable. I love a movie where you have no idea where it’s going and a pay-off that works.

Finley must has studied Wes Anderson’s quirky directorial style, since his camera moves have wonderfully fluid tracking/dolly shots and eerie long silent static shots where just the actors react to the camera. Speaking of actors, major kudos to Cooke and Taylor-Joy who really sell this movie. Cooke, with her icy 1000-yard stare, is both scary and fascinating at the same time. Taylor-Joy, on the other hand, goes through an emotional arc that is devastating and haunting. This movie should be retitled Beauty & the Beast, as the story conveys just that.

Capping it all off is the late, great Anton Yelchin, who gives the picture its comedic relief with a jagged edge. The icing on the cake is the unsettling soundtrack by musician Eric Friedlander, who uses an eclectic assortment of Japanese Kodo drums, synthesizers, and techno-infused rhythms to keep your senses off-balance. Like I said, this is NOT your average indie film but one that, for a first timer, hits it out of the ballpark with ease. I look forward to see his next effort!

Heathers (1988)

Throwing out the usual playbook with high school scripts that feature goofy teenage love stories and hot rod races, this film broke the mold and gave us teen angst cranked to 11, social values to die for, and sparked not only a controversy over its content, but later delivered a Broadway musical too boot!

Putting Winona Ryder and Christian Slater on the map, this surprisingly very dark comedy developed a rather rabid cult following. You have Westerberg High School in Ohio where, ruling the roost in school, are the “Heathers”, a notoriously popular clique of three wealthy and beautiful girls, all having the same first name. There’s queen bee Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), Heather Duke (Shannon Doherty), and Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk). Admired, hated, and feared, the Heathers are always on the prowl for fresh meat. That’s we there meet Veronica Sawyer (Ryder), a popular “nerdy” girl that the Heathers decide to indoctrinate into their inner circle.

Meanwhile, a rebellious new student named Jason “J.D.” Dean (Slater–doing his best Clint Eastwood impression) pulls a fake gun on bully jocks Kurt Kelly (Lance Fenton) and Ram Sweeney (Patrick Laborteaux), who were trying to bully him. Veronica, finding herself fascinated with his audacity, hooks up with him later. This turns out to be a bad idea as J.D. convinces Veronica to kill Heather Chandler after she viciously makes fun of her at a frat party. Veronica refuses, but accidentally serves Chandler a lethal drink (courtesy of J.D.) and bye-bye Heather #1! Veronica, freaking out, forges a dramatic suicide note in Heather’s handwriting, and thinks that’s the end of it.

It isn’t! J.D. convinces Veronica to ‘just embarrass’ Kurt and Ram for spreading a false rumor about her, but things go very wrong, and the two jocks are promptly murdered by J.D. Veronica, increasingly disturbed by his behavior (oh, ya think??), tells J.D. that she won’t participate in any more killings and then fakes her own suicide. Yeah… bad idea. Assuming Veronica is dead, J.D. decides to blow-up the school during a pep rally, but is stopped by Veronica who shoots him. Severely injured, J.D. grabs the bomb and leaves, blowing only himself up to tiny bits.

As the smoke clears, Veronica confronts Heather Duke and becomes the new Heather queen, inviting her nerdy & obese friend, Martha Dunnstock (Carrie Lynn), to hang out with her. Believe it not, iconic filmmaker Stanley Kubrick was supposed to direct this, but wanted to make a three-hour film! What’s really funny and interesting about this movie is, not only how GOOD it is, but it’s by people who have made bad films. Director Michael Lehmann did stinkeroo’s Hudson Hawk and Airheads, and screenwriter Daniel Walters gave us the truly bad Adventures of Ford Fairlane and Vampire Academy. So how did these two come up with such a winner?

The script is tight, darkly amusing, and treads over hushed territories that are seldom seen in teen comedies. When was the last time you saw movie that made fun of teen suicides, murdering bullies, and homophobic death? Yikes! Walters delivered a one-two punch with snappy dialogue, and storyline that is sassy and dangerous. Although a sequel was talked about, it never happened, but in 2010 Heathers–The Musical premiered on Broadway to rave reviews. I’ve seen it twice, and it’s just as irreverent and twisted as the movie, but with some great music added.  Heathers has also been remade into a current TV series on the Paramount Network.

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