"Saltburn" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
Emerald Fennell really broke onto the scene with her fantastic feature film directorial debut, "Promising Young Woman", which she also wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for. Due to her huge success and her friendship with Margot Robbie after working on "Barbie" together, she was able to release the much darker, much more sexual and shocking second film, called "Saltburn". Not only is the film ambitious and, therefore, definitely not for everyone, there is no doubt that it is great as a whole, with an excellently-written screenplay, gorgeous cinematography, and fantastic performances from its ensemble, especially from Barry Keoghan and Jacob Elordi.
The picture revolves around a college student named Oliver Quick (Keoghan), who is a scholarship student that is attending Oxford. Because of his lower-class status, he feels alienated by his peers, until he runs into popular boy Felix Catton (Elordi) by chance. They start to form a bond, and when tragedy strikes Oliver, Felix invites him to go stay with him at his family mansion, known as Saltburn.
Once there, he meets the rest of Felix's eccentric family - his mother Lady Elspeth (Rosamund Pike), his father Sir James (Richard E. Grant), his sister Venetia (Alison Oliver), his American cousin Farleigh (Archie Madekwe), and Elspeth's friend Pamela (Carey Mulligan). After spending time with Felix and his family, it is very obvious there is something sinister in Saltburn, and it is going to swallow them all whole if they are not careful.
There are a couple of things you're going to notice first when watching this film. The first is the beautiful cinematography and planned shots. This film is shot on a 1.33:1 ratio, and there are shots here that can be reminiscent of those from a Wes Anderson film. It is obvious that the shots and the scenery was very important to Fennell in her vision for this film, and they really capture the viewer and bring them into the film. The second thing you will easily notice is the amount of sexual content present in this film. I have read op-eds saying the sexuality is too much for this film, but I think it honestly fits perfectly here.
It is clear Fennell is telling a story about very bad people, but it's bad people you want to root for. Therefore, the drug use, the sex, and the horrible acts these characters commit just fit perfectly. It's all there for shock value, and it makes the viewer wonder how Fennell was able to get away with this. So, you sincerely have to appreciate everything she was able to do here, especially since many acts committed in this movie can still be considered taboo in parts of the world.
But, on a story-level, Fennell just proves again how smart she is when crafting a movie. She makes the characters relatable and lovable, even though they may not be the best people. She crafts this story that moves at such a nice pace, and the story only drags in certain parts. Sure, there are moments that could have been omitted in terms of pacing and the flow of the film as a whole, but it works very well for most of the time. At the same time, she uses her directorial style to elevate this story beyond the written screenplay. Most of the stylistic choices that Fennell makes are perfect for this film, and pretty much fits what this movie is trying to say.
In terms of performances, Keoghan gives yet another electrifying, relatable performance. He is simply amazing at playing these heroes we want to root for, even though it is obvious they are messed up mentally. Every scene he is in simply works excellently because of him, and I can't imagine anyone better playing the role of Oliver. Elordi is fantastic as Felix, and that role just seems natural to him. I mean, how can you not like Elordi or his character when you watch this film. He is simply magnetic, and is great to watch throughout.
For the rest of the ensemble, I think they do an impeccable job of complimenting the two main leads. Each one of them have their own personalities that is so odd and eccentric, but the actors and actresses fit their roles to a T. You don't even see the actors when you watch this movie, and all you see are these messed up, egocentric characters they portray.
Fennell just proves once again that she is an expert storyteller, and does a wonderful job of bringing her ideas to life. "Saltburn" is vastly different from her first film, but it doesn't lose the same charm and touch that can be found in "Promising Young Woman". There are people that aren't fond of Fennell's films or the messages she tackles, but I doubt they can say that isn't amazing at what she does. I sincerely can't wait for her third film.