Movie Review – Saltburn

Principal Cast : Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike, Richard E Grant, Alison Oliver, Archie Madekwe, Carey Mulligan, Paul Rhys, Ewan Mitchell, Sadie Soverall, Reece Shearsmith, Dorothy Atkinson, Shaun Dooley, Lolly Adefope.
Synopsis: A student at Oxford University finds himself drawn into the world of a charming and aristocratic classmate, who invites him to his eccentric family’s sprawling estate for a summer never to be forgotten.


So it’s true – the sophomore slump is real?

Not at all, not if trailblazing director Emerald Fennell has a say in things. Saltburn, the follow-up feature film following her critically acclaimed Promising Young Woman in 2019, seems to delight in salaciousness and controversy, a pointed class subtext with Kubrickian stateliness despite the wanton hedonism depicted therein. I am unsure if casual audiences will connect with Saltburn – indeed, as a long-time open-minded film connoisseur even I struggled to enjoy this one in the true sense of the word – but it’s brave and uncompromising and I applaud Fennell and the studio behind this for taking a chance.

From Barry Keoghan’s daring, sublime “Talented Mr Ripley” performance, to Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike, Archie Madekwe and a great Allison Oliver, Saltburn wants not for talent. Even a cheap-n-nasty cameo by Carey Mulligan – perhaps returning the favour to Fennell after snagging an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in Promising Young Woman – fails to dampen the enthusiasm with which this eclectic cast personify their roles; Keoghan deserves all the nominations for his turn as the duplicitous Oliver Quick, a lower-class parasite who attaches himself to the Catton family via his classmate, the attractive Felix (Jacob Elordi), before suckling at the teat of the family’s sprawling English estate, “Saltburn”. Unlike Rebecca’s “Manderlay”, however, I am not sure “Saltburn” will permeate the pop-culture zeitgeist with the creepy, shocking (and disgusting) shenanigans that take place within it.

As somebody who has studied film somewhat over the years, I am torn between an admiration for Fennell’s style and prowess here, and a deep distaste for the plot, characters and tone of the film – not a single person in Saltburn is likable, most of the people here are detestable in the extreme in a variety of ways, and the liquidity of some of the film’s most redolent moments – at one point Oliver gives head to a woman on her period, and in another licks up the bathwater of a man who has just masturbated in the tub – is disturbing to say the least. It’s not without some artistic merit, however, and there are viewers out there for whom Saltburn speaks volumes and plumbs the depths of intellectual examination.

I, however, was less enticed by the film’s oversaturated colour schemes and debauched character beats, a feeling of lizard-brain revulsion overtaking the more circumspect artistic appreciation I may have had. Keoghan is a terrific actor (Banshees Of Inisherin, in particular has remained with me) and gives a masterclass performance in subversion, expectation and deliverance, and yet his character – indeed the whole film – is a tough nut to crack in terms of understanding things like motivation and.. a point.

Unfortunately, I can safely say that I did not enjoy Saltburn as much as everyone else, for the reasons mentioned above. I can admire Fennell for her refusal to cohere to tradition or the mainstream, and in that respect the film’s boundary-pushing tactics will work for many. With unlikeable characters to work with, even with solid performances and a very specific aesthetic, Saltburn was a particularly unpalatable turn-off. In saying that, I would prefer filmmakers dare an audience to go with them on a journey, instead of vomiting up some mediocre clone of films long past. Fennell has proven herself a filmmaker of note and of a singular vision, so I look forward to her next venture despite my irritation with this one. Definitely a “your mileage may vary” movie if ever there was one.

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