Saltburn Review

REVIEW: Saltburn

Saltburn is the second film from writer and director Emerald Fennell, a follow-up to her lauded debut Promising Young Woman. This time Fennell focuses on social class and the rich elite, with the end result landing somewhere between brilliant and frustrating.

The film follows Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), a working-class boy from Merseyside who has been accepted into Oxford on a scholarship. When he arrives, he finds himself a loner, shunned by all of the popular students and instead watching them from afar. However one day Oliver happens upon the most popular student on campus, Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), and helps him with a problem. From then on, Felix invites Oliver into his world and friendship group, despite reservations from his cousin and fellow student Farleigh (Archie Madekwe). Soon Oliver and Felix become close friends, and after hearing of Oliver’s troubled family life, Felix invites him to spend the summer at his family home, Saltburn.

Saltburn Review

On arrival at Saltburn, Oliver meets Felix’s family; his vapid, gossiping mother Elsbeth (Rosamund Pike), his flirty sister Venetia (Alison Oliver), his oblivious father James (Richard E. Grant) and Elsbeth’s troubled friend Pamela (Carey Mulligan). After initially struggling with the family’s lavish and opulent lifestyle, along with indifference from the family’s serving staff, Oliver soon begins to ingratiate himself with the Cattons who seem to be amused by his background and lack of social airs and graces. However, as the summer progresses, Oliver’s friendship with Felix begins to turn into a dangerous obsession, that soon has repercussions for the entire family.

Saltburn Review

After watching the trailer for this film, I’d been a little unsure about it and couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was about. I watched it solely for Barry Keoghan, who I think is an absolutely phenomenal actor, and he certainly delivers in this. He is captivating in every scene and I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the naive yet questionable Oliver. Alongside Jacob Elordi who is incredibly charismatic and definitely another star on the rise, the pair make for a very watchable film. Paired with a very smart script, engaging dialogue and a surprising amount of hilarious laugh-out-loud moments (most often delivered as throwaway one-liners by the wonderful Rosamund Pike), Saltburn is quite often a very interesting, entertaining and surprisingly tense film. The setting too works incredibly well, it looks stunningly beautiful and very in keeping with the opulent lifestyle it’s trying to depict. Fennell’s direction and camerawork all work to create an engaging watch.

Saltburn Review

The problem with Saltburn for me is that it seems to lose its way around halfway through. The first act seeing Oliver and Felix meet is interesting and often feels tense as the drama builds, but it seems to dip after the initial meeting at the family estate and becomes a bit boring and overly drawn out. It isn’t helped that I found some of the scenes where Oliver tries to win over some of the family both overly long and a little bit grim and disturbing. It’s a shame, as the film picks up again with the twist in the final act, which shocked me as I never saw it coming. The reveals during the ending itself are a little bit predictable but the final scene with Keoghan is absolutely brilliant and not one you’re likely to forget in a hurry.

Saltburn is a bit of a divisive film for me. Parts of it I thought were utterly brilliant with a great twist and even better cast, however the drawn-out second half with the unnecessarily grim scenes really does let it down. Had it not been for these drawbacks, this film could’ve been a standout.

Where to Watch

Saltburn | November 17, 2023 (United Kingdom) 7.5


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