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Saltburn | Review

By Emma Chen

Rating: 4/5

A new release has recently divided the public opinion, with harsh criticism for the distaste of certain scenes and high praises for the themes touched upon, so obviously I had to see it for myself. Directed by Emerald Fennell, the mastermind behind Promising Young Woman (2020), Saltburn is an acute satire with just a touch of sinister.

The narrative unfolds around Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), a scholarship student at Oxford, who makes his way to the popular group through his friendship with Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi). Felix ends up inviting Oliver to spend the summer holidays at Saltburn, the country estate of his eccentric and awfully rich family. 

A fish out of water, Oliver becomes a subtle force of social deconstruction, challenging the very fabric of English society and discreetly collapsing every certainty, like a cancerous cell.

The Catton family becomes its own microcosm—possibly in parallel to the Royal family—trapped in formalities (the change of clothes according to time slots), devoid of parental sense (children thrown into boarding schools to be raised by others), and incredibly skilled at anaesthetising emotions (pain, first and foremost). 

The cinematography deserves a round of applause, as traditional imagery meets a neon-and-provocative-sequences makeover. What made the film so widely discussed in the media is the presence of some close-ups involving more bodily fluids than a med school anatomy class. Shocking for some? Yes. Couldn't look away from the screen? Absolutely. The whole story revolves around the tension, sometimes sexual, between Oliver's ferocious desire and the Catton family's volatile and satiated one, so I find it only fitting for such desire to be portrayed through so-called disturbing scenes.

Now, here's the 'but' you've been waiting for—Saltburn takes an unnecessary detour with its ending. It's like the director thought we missed the memo and decided to spell in detail what was already widely understood from the first lines of the film, taking away much of the provocation Saltburn tries to embody. Much similar in intent, but less self-absorbed, is Theorem by Italian director Pasolini, who (in 1968!) tells the story of a stranger barging into and twisting the life of a bourgeoisie household, attracting the attention and desire of every member of the family. It seems somewhat easier to show certain taboos on the big screen now, when it was already done 56 years ago.

Image: Jennifer C on flickr. License: CC Attribution 2.0 Generic

Barry Keoghan steals the show, conveying complex emotions and subtle nuances. On the flip side, Jacob Elordi's Felix Catton is about as deep as a puddle, but, after all, even puddles can look pretty in the right light. He does a rather good job at being Oliver's object of desire alongside the many, many viewers who are currently on Etsy purchasing the 'Jacob Elordi Bathwater' candle from that scene.

Moreover, the chemistry between the two actors adds layers to the ambiguous friendship at the heart of the film.

In conclusion, Saltburn stands as a testament to the fact that Emerald Fennell is, indeed, 'a promising young woman' in the cinematic world. Despite the stumble in the final act, the film's take on English society, coupled with Keoghan's excellent performance, makes it a nice watch for a movie night with friends or, if you're a brave one, with your family.


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