Saltburn Image


By Alan Ng | November 24, 2023

NOW IN THEATERS! Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman took a sensitive subject and gave it a very dark turn. Saltburn seems to bypass everything and just goes dark. Barry Keoghan plays Oliver, a new Oxford student and a bit of a loner. His only friend on campus is a nerd, but Oliver has eyes on the campus stud, Felix (Jacob Elordi). One afternoon, Felix’s bike gets a flat tire on the way to class, and Oliver offers his bike as a replacement.

The grateful Felix becomes instant friends with Oliver. Since his father died and his mother is in rehab, Felix invites Oliver to his family mansion for the holidays with his parents, Sir James Catton (Richard E. Grant) and Elsbeth (Rosamund Pike), and younger sister, Venetia (Alison Oliver). Also staying there is Oliver’s school rival, Farleigh (Archie Madekwe), and family friend, Pamela (Carey Mulligan).

While at the mansion, Oliver gets a taste of the good life…like the really, really good life. Oliver also becomes the pet project of mother Elsbeth, who decides to throw him a birthday party. Oliver also becomes closer to Felix…almost too close…like a love-struck stalker. As they say, some things are too good to be true, but is it too good for Oliver or Felix?

“Felix invites Oliver to his family mansion for the holidays with his parents…”

After about midway through the second act, things get crazy…dark and crazy. There are so many twists and turns that you’ll get whiplash. The true colors of every character emerge, and none of them are worth spoiling.

I’ll just say this. I like stories that are dark and explore the dark recesses of humanity. Saltburn takes things too far. It’s such a shame. As a cinematic tale, Emerald Fennell is a master storyteller. The film is gorgeous. The cast is incredible. It’s a master class in large-cast character development.

As with Promising Young Woman, Fennell plays with subtext extremely well. There’s so much going on with this story of class, and it’s rich and deep…Oliver’s jealousy of the rich set against the pitying puppy dog approach of the Catton’s to Oliver. Barry Keoghan is brilliant as Oliver and perfect to tell Fennell’s tale from Oliver’s perspective.

The problem is this story. There are images and sequences you just can’t unsee. I know I sound like a prude, but there’s some stuff that film snobs will call “brave,” and I will call repulsive (IMHO). There’s one “grave” moment that goes on forever, and here I completely gave up on the film or was willing to find the “art” in the final product.

There’s no doubt that Emerald Fennell is a master of her craft as a writer and director and deserves all the success she can get in Hollywood. On the other hand, Saltburn just goes too far, and its startling images shocked me out of the story altogether.

Saltburn (2023)

Directed and Written: Emerald Fennell

Starring: Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Archie Madekwe, Richard E. Grant, Rosamund Pike, Carey Mulligan, Alison Oliver, etc.

Movie score: 5/10

Saltburn Image

"…Fennell is a master of her craft as a writer and director..."

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