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MOVIES: Saltburn – Review

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Emerald Fennell’s follow up to Promising Young Woman leans into her background as a literal heiress for a hypocritical eat the rich narrative that shoots itself in the foot by having one scene undermine the entire narrative in what is otherwise, a bold, shocking tale about greed and the desire for power at Oxford. Barry Keoghan’s Oliver Quick is from a poor family in Liverpool with a rough background, but is quickly drawn under the wing of the aristocratic Felix Catton; played by Jacob Elordi, who’s incredibly charming with an eccentric family to boot. However – the summer that follows is never to be forgotten, with death, ambition and power on the air.

The film nails what it’s like to be an outsider at university among a clique heavy environment where you just don’t fit in. The grounds of Oxford where the film opens up highlights the class disparity between Oliver and the aristocratic Felix, who’s so charming it’s hard not to fall in love with him, yet the film quickly reveals sinister ambitions that lend a bit too far into farce once we get away from Oxford, away from the outsider-looking-in, and we see the motives behind Oliver’s reasoning for getting involved with the Cattons explored – it’s demented, twisted – but designed to shock and nothing more, without any thought or style behind it. Horny as hell – chaotic bisexuals are having an absolutely feasting year of cinema – but I just wish we’d have something better here because Passages or Maestro this is very much not. Worse still: I don’t think I could actually trust anyone who likes tis film – I took issues with Promising Young Woman but the depth just isn’t here to give any kind of substance to Saltburn at all – it’s an insight into class that’s so simplistic and so easily undercut when the big moment at Oliver’s house happens halfway through the film.

The film uses the setting of 2006 but given the tradition of Oxford this could have quite easily been a period piece for all intents and purposes – the crux of the film centres around a play for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and there is few times where the film relies on modern day technology to the point that it feels almost alien when you see it. Fennell is provocative and daring instead but whilst there are touches of Pasolini here; it’s not quite as bold or committed – its main strengths lie in the performances, Barry Keoghan is excellent as the snivelling, eager-to-please Oliver; and Jacob Elordi continues his meteoric rise with a performance that’s hard not to be swept up under his spell as Felix. It takes power to create a performance where everybody loves you and the audience loves you – and if anything the film has you fall in love with him a little too much for its third act to land.

The Catton family is equally eccentric. Richard E. Grant’s Sir James is hilarious – as is Rosamund Pike’s mother Elsbeth. Alison Oliver’s Venetia offers a stark contrast to Felix as his sister; and the foil comes in Archie Madekwe’s Farleigh, who sees through Oliver before anyone else can because he knows him: he’s watching himself be replaced. But there are warnings too, cracks behind the façade: Carey Mulligan’s houseguest who will never leave; Pamela – Elsbeth’s friend, and you start to wonder: is Saltburn everything that it seems to be?

The mansion may live up to your expectations but the film unfortunately fails to – not given enough weight to pull of its tragedy and not given enough substance to work as an ‘eat the rich’ film: not when its director is so wealthy Oliver’s story is barely given a second thought.

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