London Film Festival 2023: ‘Saltburn’ Review
Director: Emerald Fennell
Writer: Emerald Fennell
Starring: Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike, Carey Mulligan, Richard E. Grant.
Where To Watch: In cinemas now.
Our Rating: ⭐️
Emerald Fennell’s sophomore showing draws us into the beautiful, violent privilege of mid-00s Oxford alongside the terrifically enchanted Oliver, portrayed by the bountiful, though slightly miscast, Barry Keoghan (he’s much too old for this and his so-called Merseyside accent leaves little to be desired). Oliver is quickly entranced by the circle of old money freshers at his college, drawn into it by their charming ringleader (and most privileged of all), Felix (Jacob Elordi). Felix is the heir to the stately home of Saltburn and, after personal tragedy strikes Oliver, he earnestly invites his new friend to spend the summer holidays in the company of him and his family at this quasi-mansion.
Whatever your opinions may be on Fennell’s Oscar-winning debut Promising Young Woman, it’s not entirely out of reach to assume the writer/director would have taken into account some of the criticism that the film’s polarising ending brought about as she crafted the follow-up. However, with Saltburn, it feels as though Fennell has doubled down on her divisive label and strived to come up with something that gets the people outraged. Whilst I admit, I found the film outrageous, it wasn’t due to the contrived ‘scandalous’ moments which you’ve no doubt heard about already in discourse around this film — the oral sex, the bathtub, and the grave, of course. The film is outrageous in its mindless self-indulgence. The film posits itself as something of a critical take on British class relations, yet it seems Fennell didn’t have quite enough story to fill the feature length and stuffed it with twists and turns that undo any opportunity this film had to say something about the topic. Instead, Saltburn reeks of a certain smarminess, as though it’s trying to be smarter but without any logic, pacing, or coherence to deserve such a label.
By the third act, it has lost any sense of fullness that the first thirty minutes fooled us with (bolstered by a wonderful outing from Rosamund Pike that seems to just…dissipate). It’s empty and rhythmless, culminating in a malicious twist that attempts to be some Anglicised take on Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite — only it seems that Fennell has dated to ask: what if we made the working/middle class people just purely psychotic? It’s unsurprising, given her pedigree, that Fennell assumes this choice as a radical dramatic twist instead of what it actually reads as to us plebs, a perverse representation that feels as damaging as it does offensive.