Saltburn movie poster

Saltburn

In theaters December 22, 2023

Rated

, ,

141 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , ,

It’s hard to describe Saltburn (2023) and comparing it to similar movies would spoil the fun. In the follow-up to her debut feature film, Promising Young Woman (2020), Emerald Fennell explores college crushes, obsessions, and the all-around psychopathy of the fantastically wealthy.

At Oxford in 2006, Oliver (Barry Keoghan) is the odd man out. His clothes are clean, if worn or secondhand, he doesn’t come from money, and the only friends he can make are the folks who are already social outcasts. Oliver has aimed higher and set his sights on Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi) and spends the semester putting himself in Felix’s sightline to be noticed. After Oliver receives devastating news from home, Felix invites Oliver to his family’s estate, Saltburn. Oliver receives the full brunt of social inequity as the Cattons are both minor royalty and rich white trash. Sir James and Lady Elspeth (Richard E. Grant and Rosamund Pike) are the doting (yet self-absorbed to the point of neglect) parents, Felix’s sister Venetia (Allison Oliver) sleeps around just so someone pays attention to her, and Cousin Farleigh (Archie Madekwe) who’s adopted the mantle of family charity case and resents Oliver’s intrusion into his happy con.

Oliver has very specific designs on Felix and throughout the runtime of 131 minutes, things will transpire on screen that are uncomfortable, funny, horrific, and mind-blowing. Saltburn is both disturbing and compelling, and if you remember your Promising Young Woman Primer, acting surprised isn’t going to cut it. Writer-director Emerald Fennel takes a college obsession to its natural conclusion (if you lacked a soul and played the long game). The film looks like the dreams you have after over-medicating on Nyquil, and its quiet pace and sharp detours are both familiar and surreal. Saltburn’s premise is wholly acceptable from beginning to end, and that is the benign horror of it.

Barry Keoghan, aging out of his babyface teen roles, is the calm and calculating Oliver who lacks a significant amount of impulse control. Everything about Oliver is pitch-perfect from his downtrodden homelife to his shabby clothes, and he understands the roles he plays in every scenario, even when he’s made to be the butt of jokes. He is quietly unhinged, and his actions are beyond startling. The audience can sympathize with Oliver because we’ve all been there, but where he goes next is a path we’re all but dragged along. Jacob Elordi as Felix is the casual rich jerk who could be nice if he wasn’t born into eff-you money where consequences are for other people. Rosamund Pike is the delightfully detached Lady Elspeth, who could be a wonderful mother if children weren’t involved, and Richard E. Grant as Sir James is English Stiff Upper Lip personified, where emotions are for common people, and he knows exactly how much money it takes for people to go away.

Saltburn isn’t a movie you’ll take your mother to after church and it’s not the Friday Family Affair. This is a third date movie, where you’re comfortable watching other people put their genitals all over each other. Saltburn will spark discussions or uncomfortable silence while you work to process what you’ve just seen. It may be a few days before you decide you love it. It’s been known to happen.

Saltburn is rated R for swears, lots of booze, lots of nose candy, social awkwardness, sexytimes, uncomfortable actions of obsession involving dirt and bathwater, suicide, death, and murder.

Saltburn is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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