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Anya Taylor-Joy Continues to Rule the Big Screen

The ‘Split’ star loves a good challenge and remains one of the most fascinating young actors in Hollywood today.
Anya Taylor Joy Split
By  · Published on August 6th, 2018

The ‘Split’ star loves a good challenge and remains one of the most fascinating young actors in Hollywood today.

Ever since Anya Taylor-Joy broke out in The Witch, “gritty” and “dark” have been commonly used to describe her most riveting work. Even her foray into the superhero genre is eerie and unnerving – however random that Split reveal seems (and hey, she’ll be back for Glass too). The young actress first appeared on our radars a mere three years ago, but we’ve made sure to stay on the lookout for her latest projects ever since.

According to Deadline, Taylor-Joy will be part of the ensemble cast of Here Are the Young Men, the movie adaptation of Rob Doyle’s debut novel of the same name. Taylor-Joy, Dean-Charles Chapman (Game of Thrones), Finn Cole (Peaky Blinders), and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (Sing Street) will play the leads in the film, which will be written and directed by Eoin C. Macken (The Inside).

Here Are the Young Men is primed to be confronting, given that its source material is already extremely polarizing. The book is set in early 2000s Dublin, and concerns itself with the many shenanigans of some teenage boys – Matthew (Chapman), Rez (Walsh-Peelo), and Kearney (Cole) – who are on the road to self-destruction. They carelessly drink, do drugs, and have sex in order to deal with the bleakness and anxiety that permeates their lives as drifters.

In Here Are the Young Men, the boys’ nihilistic tendencies draw similarities to the ultraviolence of A Clockwork Orange or anything by Bret Easton Ellis. On the one hand, they can be read as somber critiques of toxic masculinity. Aimlessness and alienation would feel relatable to most youths of the 21st century in general, too.

Yet I personally have my reservations about the plot, particularly as my biggest investment in the project happens to be Taylor-Joy. She will play Jen, a girl whom one of the boys pines after.

While Chapman, Cole, and Walsh-Peelo fill the shoes of lost, violent boys who are vastly indifferent to the world around them – including the women in their lives – Taylor-Joy may very well operate as a thankless moral compass as the love interest. Jen has some cursory motivations to leave the dead-end circumstances of her hometown behind. However, the book never really develops her character (or any woman in the story, for that matter) substantially enough for readers to get a well-rounded impression of her. That doesn’t bode particularly well for anything Taylor-Joy could be tasked with on the adaptation.

What alleviates some of my concerns is the fact that Taylor-Joy can actually play an archetype and elevate a stereotypically disempowered role. She is exceptional at subtlety and nuance, even when handed something supposedly stereotypical and bland.

Taylor-Joy’s role in Split is made truly worthwhile due to her shrewdness. Narratively, Casey Cooke is determined by the torture that men inflict upon her, at first by an abusive family member and then, by James McAvoy’s 24-personality antagonist after he abducts her. Regardless of this exceptionally problematic characterization, Taylor-Joy translates Casey’s dark undercurrents into strength. As the character learns to face her fears, she becomes far more compelling than one would originally imagine by virtue of Taylor-Joy’s onscreen rebirth as a troubled final girl.

That kind of talent was first teased out in The Witch. Granted, Robert Eggers’ film is simply better-written all-around. The tensions run higher and the characters are eerier and more mysterious in The Witch, and so Taylor-Joy had much more to work with. Taylor-Joy’s Thomasin is growing up to have a mind of her own, and that freaks her parents out. She is anything but the rigid personification of a woman, but she also wrestles with her inner power and the oppression that attempt to suppress her further between being tormented by the supernatural and lambasted by a Puritanical family.

Finally, Thoroughbreds presents another quiet but deceptively layered performance on Taylor-Joy’s part. Her character Lily isn’t written with much depth at all, as the film is more interested in dealing with and subsequently subverting uncanny archetypes. And because Lily is an excellent pretender and Taylor-Joy is calculative enough to be cautiously aloof yet disconcertingly ardent and likable, we believe in this portrayal or at least root for the character despite the fact that she is going to murder someone. Even when the other shoe drops and Lily reveals a more sinister agenda, Taylor-Joy embodies the mask of wide-eyed innocence to a T.

Perhaps writing off Here Are the Young Men immediately would be a mistake on my part given the talent involved. Furthermore, nihilistic alienation has made it on screen in commendable ways (for instance, in Mary Harron’s American Psycho). And even if Taylor-Joy isn’t as much the focus of Here the Young Men, there are other projects on the horizon that will put her front and center.

Deadline reported that Weetzie Bat, which Taylor-Joy was announced for in July 2018, is a “neon-lit fairytale” co-starring Nick Robinson (Love, Simon), Sasha Lane (American Honey), Theodore Pellerin (Boy Erased), and Keiynan Lonsdale (The Flash). Adapted by Francesca Lia Block from her novel of the same name, the movie will follow the glitzy adventures of the eponymous young woman who is the child of an alcoholic and a drug addict.

In her quest for love in 1980s Los Angeles, Weetzie teams up with her best friend Dirk (Pellerin) and eventually meets filmmaker Max (Robinson) and surfer Duck (Lonsdale). But the group’s lives are far from perfect and glamorous as they deal with loss, breakups, and bitter exes (Lane). Weetzie will have demons to confront alongside her journey to happiness.

Of course, all evidence points to the fact that Taylor-Joy can knock this part out of the park. Weetzie Bat could even be a change of pace from her typically serious roles. The variance between it and Here Are the Young Men provide a little inkling of Taylor-Joy’s willingness to experiment with her onscreen brand, and that’s always a good thing. Between these films and other upcoming projects such as Glass, the X-Men film The New Mutants, and the biopic Radioactive, Taylor-Joy has a lot on her plate and we’re celebrating.

Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)