Teen film marks comically savage debut of writer-director Cory Finley

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“Thoroughbreds” is a delightfully nasty piece of work, a sharp, biting, dark teen comic-drama with an attitude to rival “Heathers.”

Anya Taylor-Joy, whose mix of naivete and intensity was put to similar use in “The Witch,” stars as Lily, an upper crust Connecticut teen in a posh suburban home. She reconnects with Amanda (Olivia Cooke, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”), a troubled teen with whom she has lost touch with over the years. Amanda knows her mother is paying Lily to hang out with her, and she chides Lily for not pressing to get even more money out of the deal.

Amanda feels everything, Lily feels nothing. Lily teaches Amanda to cry on cue — it’s all about manipulating the muscles in your head, she tells her. And “Thoroughbreds,” the writing and directing debut of Cory Finley, is similarly working to manipulate viewers into falling under the two teens’ spell. With performances this good, it’s not difficult.

Amanda wants to get rid of her stepdad, and the girls talk over how it would be done. An outdoor scene with an oversize backyard chess board shows the mental games have already begun. They enlist the help of a scuzzy schoolyard drug dealer (Anton Yelchin, a heartbreaking reminder of what we lost with his 2016 death), whose moral compass is nonetheless more precise than that of either of the girls.

“Thoroughbreds” is smart and cunning, and its sparse mood is assisted by its off-kilter, minimal score by Erik Friedlander. It’s a daring piece of work in both what it shows — most of the movie is just Taylor-Joy and Cooke, and they play off each other in magnificent fashion — and what it doesn’t. It’s a movie that leaves a bruise.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘Thoroughbreds’

GRADE: B+

Rated R for disturbing behavior, bloody images, language, sexual references, and some drug content

Running time: 90 minutes

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