“Saltburn” takes time to lay out a detailed foundation rather than diving into the wicked shocks and thrills, but when it does, it goes headfirst with no end. This obscene and lustrous film expresses obsession and villainy’s twisted nature.
“Saltburn” follows Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), a socially awkward young student struggling to find where he fits at Oxford University. He quickly becomes enthralled by a popular and charming fellow Oxford student, Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi).
The opposite of Oliver, Felix is the epitome of privilege and extreme wealth. The two boys grow increasingly close as Felix helps Oliver navigate this unfamiliar and extravagant world that he has found himself in, as well as a growing sense of competition between Oliver and Farleigh (Archie Madekwe), Felix’s cousin and fellow Oxford student.
Upon learning about the hardships of Oliver’s life, Felix invites him to spend the summer at his family’s estate, Saltburn. From the moment Oliver arrives at this estate, it is clear that he does not fit in naturally. The apparent kind-hearted demeanour of Felix’s parents, Elsbeth (Rosamund Pike) and Sir James (Richard E. Grant), is almost overshadowed by their sheer vulgarity of wealth and extravagant lifestyle.
Although a psychological thriller, the film offers moments of simple humour and light-heartedness that are satiric to the flamboyantly wealthy English upper class. Blink, and you’ll miss them. These well-scripted moments create authenticity in the film and truly bring the characters and relationships to life, making the twists and the shocks all the more impactful.
“This obscene and lustrous film expresses obsession and villainy’s twisted nature…”
The shock factor of this film is far more complex and twisted than a simple jump scare. No, the shock factor of this film relates to the complete feeling of disgust that courses through your veins. The discomfort and revulsion were audible amongst spectators in the theatre.
You will want the camera to cut to the next scene. However, that will not be the case. Instead, viewers of this outrageous film must sit through the revolting scenes and curl up in their seats until it is finally over.
Emerald Fennell’s clever use of silence is one aspect of the film that causes these moments to pack such a painful punch. This silence during the film’s climatic moments adds grave intensity to the despicable scenes. There is no music or added sound effects to drown out the discomfort you are feeling at what you are witnessing on the screen. The extreme close-up shots create an immense feeling of intimacy. At times, it may sometimes feel too real, almost invasive, enough to rattle even the most robust of film viewers.
The twists and turns taken in the film will surely shock the viewer. Just as you think you have cracked how this story will go; something will happen to deconstruct your theory completely. Academy Award-winning director Emerald Fennel chooses not to conform to the more typical glamourous Hollywood ending where everything is tied up perfectly.#
Instead, it’s murky, messy and immoral in a way that fits perfectly with the rest of the story. Some viewers may leave the film with questions; however, I wonder if that is perhaps the point. There is no black-and-white answer to why human beings may ever behave in such a dark manner.
Aside from the clever storyline and cinematography of Emerald Fennell, there is one thing that truly stands out in this film. That is Barry Keoghan’s performance. While the performances by Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike, and the rest of the cast are truly exceptional throughout, Barry Keoghan is undeniably the beating heart of this dark and explicit film.
The Irish man and Academy Award nominee, best known for his performances in “The Banshees of Inisherin” and “Love Hate”, is completely fearless and skilful throughout the entirety of this film. From the early humorous naivety of Oliver to the darkest moments of this film, Barry Keoghan’s performance in this film is consistently captivating and unsettling.
Saltburn is a twisted tale of vulgar obsession, malice, vengeance, and lust that is extremely difficult to watch at more times than one. It is a dark, scandalous, and raunchy film that does not shy away from the most shocking of storylines. It is not a film for the fainthearted.
Saoirse Wilson – Arts & Lifestyle Editor