December 22, 2023 / Warner Bros.
Starring: Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike, Richard E. Grant, Alison Oliver, Archie Madekwe, Carey Mulligan
Directed By: Emerald Fennell
Struggling to find his place at Oxford University, student Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) finds himself drawn into the world of the charming and aristocratic Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), who invites him to Saltburn, his eccentric family’s sprawling estate, for a summer never to be forgotten.
Written By Darren
Rating 4 out of 5
The festivities are underway at the Saltburn Estate, and the Catton family cannot wait for you to attend and join in the fun! Just in time for the holidays, Emerald Fennell’s latest film Saltburn will begin streaming on Amazon Prime Video on Friday December 22. Without a question, Saltburn is one of the most provocative films from the year thanks to Fennell’s excellent writing and wicked themes that are explored in the film, and Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi and Rosamund Pink are exquisite throughout the film in the main roles. So grab your antlers, find your inner vampire, slurp back the drinks, get ready to kill it on the dance floor, and join Oliver as he descends into the madness of the upper class in Fennell’s impressive second feature film.
Saltburn slowly seduces audiences with an intoxicating sophomore film from writer-director Emerald Fennell that is packed with extravagance, debauchery and brilliant performances from Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi and Rosamund Pike, making Fennell two for two in delivering unforgettable cinematic experiences.
Emerald Fennell made her directorial debut with 2020’s Promising Young Woman, in which she shocked audiences with one of the best films of the decade so far. It was a provocative and unforgettable look at sexual assault that not only left audiences simultaneously rocked to the core and in awe at the masterful thriller they just experienced, but dazzled with her talents as a filmmaker. Naturally, her follow up film was highly anticipated by many to not only see what twisted tale she could come up with this time, but to see if she would strike cinematic gold again. While it is not nearly as brilliant as Promising Young Woman, Fennell’s second film is a deliciously intoxicating experience that unleashes her filmmaking talents on audiences while taking them on a guilty pleasure indulgent fever dream that they won’t soon forget.
After befriending Felix, his charming and wealthy classmate, Oliver finds himself invited to Felix’s family home, Saltburn, for the summer holidays. While at first Oliver is in awe of the grand, aristocratic life he experiences at Saltburn, it quickly becomes apparent that everything is not as perfect as it seems as he is drawn into the elite upper society and the darkness inherent in their lifestyle.
For her sophomore film, Fennell invites audiences to be seduced by the grandeur and opulence of Saltburn and the intrigue of the Catton family as Oliver spends the summer at their family manor. While the story feels familiar at times as we watch this young man dream of becoming part of the elite upper class during his wild summer with them, Fennell pushes it farther than you can imagine which results in an intoxicating, addictive psychological thriller with elements of black comedy sprinkled throughout. While the parties and debauchery are reminiscent of Babylon and The Great Gatsby, the heart of the story lies in Oliver’s desire to be recognized and accepted into the Catton family. It feels sincere, but as Oliver spends more time in Saltburn, the cracks in the perfect facade begin to show which creates an undeniable tension for the audience. There are some moments of pure shock as you cannot believe what you are watching unfold on screen that are certain to cause some walkouts from theatres, but these moments only enhanced the depravity of the story Fennell was telling and made it that much more of a disturbing experience. While the film begins to drag slightly near the end of the second act, it quickly course corrects in the final act where Fennell fully embraces the madness she had been hinting throughout the entire film, right up to that shocking finale. Even though you can see the twist coming pretty early on in the film, what truly shocks about the reveal is how much Fennell discloses and how far she pushes the envelope, proving Fennell’s incredible talent to deliver an unexpected and divisive cinematic experience.
Fennell has assembled a truly excellent cast to bring her twisted vision to life, and the film is in more than capable hands with Barry Keoghan, Rosamund Pike and Jacob Elordi in the lead roles. Keoghan once again revels in this darker role as the quiet loner brought into the madness of Saltburn by his best friend. It’s a mesmerizing performance as Keoghan finds the quiet, polite qualities to Oliver as he slowly loses himself to the madness of Saltburn. It allows Keoghan to become unhinged at times, fully embracing the madness that Fennell has given life to in her story, and by the time the big reveal happens at the end, Keoghan will have you shaking in your seat. It’s just a truly sublime performance from one of the most talented young actors working today. Elordi continues to impress with his range as an actor, simultaneously capturing the coolness of Felix, with a more sincere boy beneath the surface. While growing up in the madness of Saltburn, Felix earns for an honest connection. Elordi captures this with a sweetness and tenderness that comes out in his relationship with Oliver, flipping the male bravado image that Felix strives for on its head. When called for, Elordi delivers all the cockiness and horniness demanded by the script, but it is in these more down to earth moments where he truly shines. And as always, Pike is exquisite, this time as the matriarch of the Catton family Lady Elsbeth. Delivering a razor sharp and darkly comedic moment every time she is on screen, Pike dazzles as the complicated Lady Elsbeth. While appearing caring on the surface, there is a darkness to her that Pike captures with ease, while also instilling a sweet motherly instinct to her as she grows very fond of Oliver.
The talent does not stop with Keoghan, Elordi and Pike, as the supporting cast is equally as impressive despite a smaller amount of screentime. Richard E. Grant is quirky as Sir James Catton, while Alison Oliver is the perfect amount of mysterious and fun as Venetia Catton in her feature film debut. Archie Madekwe is impressive as cousin Farleigh, sharing similarities to Oliver but with the entitlement of the Catton family that allows Madekwe to revel in the rudeness of his character. And while she has a very small role, Carey Mulligan was truly hilarious as “Poor Dear” Pamela and it was delightful to see her work again with Fennell after their sensational collaboration in Promising Young Woman.
One unforgettable aspect of Fennell’s filmmaking in Promising Young Woman was the way she used music in the film to not only supplement her vision, but to enhance the experience for the audience, and she does that yet again in Saltburn. Re-teaming with composer Anthony Willis, Saltburn utilizes its musical score more so than its soundtrack throughout the film. Willis has composed a score that captures the grandeur of Saltburn itself, especially with the use of the pipe organ, while his melodies are laced with a darkness and danger that is inherent throughout Fennell’s screenplay. It’s a perfect supplement to the visuals of the film, guiding the audiences’ emotional response to the story as Fennell builds to her big finale. With the lavish party sequences in the film, there is a great use of popular music from the mid 2000s in the film, and there is a great mixtape of songs being used such as MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” and The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside.” But, like her previous film, it is the excellent final needle drop of the film contrasted to Fennell’s incredibly uncomfortable and dark ending that is the use of music in this film that sticks with you. You will never hear the song she uses in the final scene the same way again.
From the second the film begins; it is impossible not to get lost in the design of the film. The cinematography is captivating, bringing to life the wildness and allure of Oliver’s summer. Drayton House in Northamptonshire comes to life as Saltburn, with the shots capturing the grandness of this beautiful manor. The 1:33.1 aspect ratio, while preventing lots of beautiful wide shots, gives the impression to the audience that you are merely peaking in on the madness that is unfolding, rather than being a part of it, which helps to build the unsettling feeling you get while watching the film. The costume design is excellent, especially in the big third act party, while Fennell has carefully chosen mid 2000s pop culture references to truly transport the audience back almost fifteen years ago. From the movies the Catton is family watching, to all of them reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and talking about what will happen at the end in passing conversation, it is excellent attention to detail by Fennell that only makes this film more impressive.
Much like Oliver, it's hard not to get lost in the allure of Saltburn. Emerald Fennell’s sophomore film oozes with stunning production design and costumes, an intriguing story that instantly gets under your skin and delivers some shocks throughout, and with an outstanding cast with the always excellent Barry Keoghan and Rosamund Pike, plus an intoxicating turn by Jacob Elordi, Fennell delivers an enticing experience that makes it easy to lose your mind to the madness that is Saltburn.