This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors currently on strike, the movie/series/feature being covered here wouldn't exist.
BY ALEX GILSTON OCTOBER 6, 2023
Two years since Promising Young Woman came out and Emerald Fennell is back. Weaving her sick and twisted web, amid the backdrop of her signature bubblegum visuals. Saltburn transcends its predecessor in every way, it’s darker, funnier, and more self-aware. Most importantly, though, it sticks its ever-so-wicked landing.
Oliver (Barry Keoghan), who is in his first year at Oxford University, is struggling to fit into student life. After spending most of the year with one of his fellow social outcasts he finds the attention of the aristocratic Felix (Jacob Elordi). The two bond over the rest of the year, to the extent that Felix invites Oliver to his family estate, Saltburn.
Oliver's blossoming relationship with Felix is the driving force of the opening act. It takes its time, reveling in the intricacies of their pairing. They’re both from different worlds, and are drawn together through opposing intentions. To Felix, Oliver is a project, whereas Oliver sees Felix as his route to something greater for himself. This dynamic is intrinsic to the success of Saltburn.
As Oliver arrives at Saltburn, the descent into chaos begins. Suzie Davies’ production design is grand and cluttered. Every room is dripping with history. If the grandiosity of the building itself wasn’t enough, it's also surrounded by vast sprawling gardens - fit with its own maze. The deeper you delve into Saltburn the harder it is to escape from its grasp.
The more Felix’s family embrace Oliver the bolder he gets. There’s a delectable darkness to the twists and turns Saltburn takes. Oliver’s obsessions manifest themselves in some boundary-pushing ways. The most excruciatingly uncomfortable thing could happen, after which you’d be content knowing it couldn’t get worse, but there was always something around the corner to beat it.
Barry Keoghan has sunk himself into some major roles. His turns in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and The Banshees of Inisherin have solidified him as a hot talent in the industry. Oliver in Saltburn is no different. He hides a cruel deceptiveness behind a caring demeanor. When he’s alone the mask slips and that longing, and desperation is visible in his reflection. You can tell Keoghan is pushing his limits, and it manifests itself in a truly captivating performance.
Jacob Elordi is Keoghan’s anchor. Felix has a deified presence, almost saint-like. Due to his role in Euphoria, Elordi fits into his role as the most popular person in school. He effortlessly glides through his toff-y English dialogue. He is almost the antithesis of Oliver, an open book with nothing to hide. Felix is only made problematic through his aristocratic roots, and Elordi captures that naivety perfectly.
Saltburn also boasts a terrific supporting line-up. Rosamund Pike, and Richard E. Grant are mummy and daddy. Whilst Alison Oliver, Archie Madekwe, and Carey Mulligan fill various other family roles. They’re all equally out-of-touch with the real world. Grant’s delusion is a particular highlight. He’s constantly in his own world, and even as terrible things happen he continues to pretend everything is sunshine and daisies.
Coming fit with a killer soundtrack, Saltburn solidifies itself firmly in its 2007 setting with strong lashings of MGMT and The Killers. There’s an absolutely glorious last minute needle drop that you’ll be lucky to get out of your head after 10 working days.
Saltburn is a look inwards for Emerald Fennell. She comes from the world she is holding to rights, and she doesn’t pull any punches. It digs into the gross privilege that these people hold and makes them suffer for it. Mainly because in reality there's no other way for them to suffer. She’s crafted an earworm of a film that’ll keep you hooked in long after you’ve left the pictures to see it.