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St. Louis native Cory Finley makes directorial debut with psychological thriller ‘Thoroughbreds’

Cory Finley grew up in Clayton, Missouri. Now based in New York City, the playwright is making his debut as a filmmaker this week with the opening of “Thoroughbreds.”
Cory Finley grew up in Clayton, Missouri. Now based in New York City, the playwright is making his debut as a filmmaker this week with the opening of “Thoroughbreds.”";s:

Cory Finley has said that his best writing comes from fear, and his new movie “Thoroughbreds” is no exception. The two characters at the center of the darkly comic film first emerged from deep-seated suspicions about his own emotional instincts and moral decision-making.

This Friday, several years since the story first entered Finley’s mind, his tightly wound tale is opening in theaters across the country. That includes several in St. Louis, where Finley was born and raised.

The first-time film director took a quick break from a busy opening week to talk about the movie with St. Louis on the Air producer Evie Hemphill. Finley also discussed what he remembers most about growing up in St. Louis and where he’s headed next as a storyteller.

At certain points throughout “Thoroughbreds,” the interaction between highly privileged teenagers Lily and Amanda is as amusing as it is eerie. The movie also explores questions that its 29-year-old writer/director hopes will linger with viewers long after the credits roll.

“Thoroughbreds” opens Friday in cities across the country, including St. Louis. Along with Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy, the film stars the late Anton Yelchin.

One of those questions has to do with connections between wealth and how young people develop empathy – or not so much – depending on their environments.

“It’s just something I think about a lot,” said Finley, who graduated from St. Louis’ prestigious John Burroughs School before going on to attend Yale and enter the world of playwriting. “Even from a young age I remember going over to the homes of my wealthiest friends and feeling like they were these sort of magical palaces where everything was beautiful and clean and easy.”

Finley added that as he developed “a little more sense of the world,” he became attuned to ways in which “anything that one provides for their own family is in some very general sense taken from some other family that you’ll never meet in this sort of capitalistic world that we live in.”

“We’re all playing this kind of zero-sum game,” he said. “And that awareness hasn’t made me less interested in providing for my own family one day, and I think that’s a basic human desire. But I’ve also certainly become aware of just this kind of violence in wealth and in the acquisition of wealth. [With] the movie, I didn’t want to be preachy – I didn’t want to write a screed or a really obvious class satire – but I just wanted to sort of sit with those concepts and see where they took me.”

Finley spoke of his high school experience at John Burroughs as a very positive, rigorous one. That said, it did inform aspects of “Thoroughbreds.”

“[Burroughs] was certainly very competitive, and I think there’s a little bit of that competitiveness in sort of a heightened way represented in this movie,” he said. “Certainly this movie depicts a very dark, hopeless world for the lead characters, including their school experience, and that was not at all my experience at Burroughs. I had a wonderful support network and really caring teachers and all of the above. But I certainly was aware of the dark places that teens can drive themselves with the weight of their own expectations on them.”

Finley is now based in New York City and admitted that there’s lots he misses about St. Louis. Along with Ted Drewes frozen custard, he looks back fondly on “the warmth” of his hometown.

“Even just silly things like how incredibly stoked everyone would get when the Cardinals were in the playoffs – those are some of my warmest memories,” he said, “just the way that it felt, like the city’s mood improved as a whole back in 2011 when we last won the World Series.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.