DON GONYEA, HOST:
"Thoroughbreds" is a new movie about two childhood friends getting to know each other again after growing apart. It is a dark tale right from the start. The teens have time to get reacquainted because one of them, Amanda, played by Olivia Cooke, is awaiting a criminal trial. Lily, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, has been expelled from her exclusive boarding school and now spends her days at home, avoiding her cruel stepfather. When Amanda notices the tension in Lily's house, that's when things get really dark.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THOROUGHBREDS")
OLIVIA COOKE: (As Amanda) Do you ever think about just killing him?
ANYA TAYLOR-JOY: (As Lily) I mean, no.
COOKE: (As Amanda) Could at least consider it.
GONYEA: Well, Lily does more than considerate it. She and Amanda hatch a murder plan, and the twists begin. Cory Finley wrote and directed "Thoroughbreds." It is his first film. And he joins us now from New York. Welcome, sir.
CORY FINLEY: Thank you, Don.
GONYEA: I want to start with Amanda. She's says she doesn't feel emotions. The doctors have given her several diagnoses, but none quite fit. So you're her creator. You wrote this. How would you diagnose her?
FINLEY: I have specifically avoided diagnosing her because I think once a movie gets into specific mental illnesses it enters a different realm than the one that I was interested in occupying. I think there are super valuable movies that do that. But I wanted to use this character who has an off-kilter view of the world and sort of an unusual moral compass.
GONYEA: She says she tries to have feelings. But they just don't come.
FINLEY: Exactly. And I am a very feelings-heavy person. I feel things deeply. And I'm sometimes almost more polite in the world than I wish I could be. So there's a little bit of a wish fulfillment in that character.
GONYEA: So maybe you're more like Lily. She feels a lot of things. And at times, she seems to be on the verge of exploding with rage or with fear. Talk about her character and why these two characters are drawn together.
FINLEY: I'm generally very interested in kind of the weird alchemy that can happen when two people get together and just the way that people with very different personalities can bring out what is best and what is worst about one another. And the movie's definitely a thriller. But I've come to see it as almost kind of a romantic comedy. It's really about these two characters that kind of need one another. And they resist one another's pull for a while. And then they kind of fall into it. And it's all about the deepening of their friendship.
GONYEA: So let's go back to Amanda, briefly. She says she doesn't feel emotion. And Amanda claims she's a good actress - this is her character speaking. And she shows Lily that she can cry on cue. Can we argue that if she does that and does it to make Lily more comfortable, is there a selflessness to that that is coming through?
FINLEY: Yeah, absolutely. I like this idea of a character who, even if she didn't have normal emotions, sort of understood the importance of participating in society and therefore had learned the ability to fake these emotions if only to put others at ease. And I guess the question is she doing it to put others at ease or to manipulate them?
GONYEA: So these girls have their plot. And they decide to hire Tim, who's a town ne'er-do-well, to actually carry out the murder. And Tim is played by Anton Yelchin who died suddenly just after filming wrapped up. I mean, people will know him as the Chekov character in the recent "Star Trek" films. Tell us about working with him and what it's like now watching his performance.
FINLEY: He was an amazing actor, also an amazing photographer, also just a real sort of student of film noir. And I think his presence on set affected the movie in a lot of ways beyond just his performance onscreen. So he's deeply missed. But he, I think, left a very strong imprint on any of the people that he worked with or knew throughout his life.
GONYEA: He is a brief but intense presence in this story.
FINLEY: Yes. Yeah, he - and it is a supporting role. But I think he pretty definitively steals all the scenes that he's in.
GONYEA: We have to talk about how unusual it is to see any movie with two female leads like this. It is really their story. The action is secondary to their relationship.
FINLEY: As a male writer, I'd certainly written my share of plays where the main character was a guy, was someone very close to my own experience. And there were female characters, but they were mostly there to kind of support his arc. And so it was a little bit of a personal challenge to myself on this one to put two women at the center of the story, to make it all about their relationship and to have men and their, you know, desire for men or their relationship to men play almost no part in the story.
GONYEA: It's a dark story about a murder plot. But there's not much visual violence. That's mostly left to the characters to describe. It happens offscreen. We see the aftermath of it. Why did you avoid graphic representations onscreen?
FINLEY: I think once you show a really gruesome act, it's very easy to lose control of the tone of a movie. And there's some tones that really accommodate gruesomeness and violence. But with this movie, I wanted the experience to be a very psychological one. I didn't ever want it to get to kind of like a "Midnight Movie" sort of place. So the general guiding principle was to kind of leave the camera on the character who was grappling with the notion of the violence that was unfolding elsewhere or to the character whose life would be upended by the violence but not to sort of fetishize the violence itself.
GONYEA: I think I saw an interview with you. You said the ghost under the bed or the monster in the closet is scarier than the one that walks in the door and is right there to be seen.
FINLEY: As a former excessively imaginative kid, I was definitely kept awake at night more by sort of the images that I couldn't get out of my head, that I kept sort of playing out in my own mind, more so than the ones that I would see fully articulated onscreen.
GONYEA: Cory Finley is the writer and director of "Thoroughbreds," which is in theaters now. Thank you.
FINLEY: Thank you so much.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.