In his mash-ups of genre conventions, he's following in some well-known footsteps.
"Some of the filmmakers who made me want to get into that business were the Coen brothers, who have such a mastery of that tone. Paul Thomas Anderson is another, a constructer of those stories in their own little world. David Lynch's movies opened up my mind about how much you can accomplish with sound design."
Finley, 29, knew he required expert guidance to achieve the technical polish he wanted for the film. Cinematographer Lyle Vincent ("A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night") gave the centerpiece location, a mansion with exceptionally wide and long corridors, the sort of slithering camerawork that gave "The Shining" its haunting tone. And the sound crew gives a sense of alarming life to invisible things only heard from off-screen.
"I was very careful about picking people whose work was a real tonal match with what I wanted to do," he said. "One of the real joys of wrapping my mind around filmmaking is that a director has so many more tools, so much more control over tone than a playwright or a stage actor does. You can't move a camera or have control over where an audience is looking as you can here."
Finley said he is "very carefully" approaching how to follow up a debut film that could be interpreted as a massive case of beginner's luck.
"I want to make movies that are unique and that express a particular sensibility about characters to care about. I'm always interested in stuff that has a little bit of comedy but not broad comedy and characters that I can identify with at a deep level.
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"We can't get too into this but I definitely uncomfortably deeply with both of the leads of 'Thoroughbreads,' " who are beset by conflicting feelings of joy, terror and hysteria. "I think at the root, that's where the story came from. They're heightened versions of things that were troubling me about myself," he said.
"Not that I'm going to go kill anyone."
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