Saltburn Movie Review: Emerald Fennell Delivers a Provocative Sophomore Film Light on Substance

Directed by Emerald Fennell and Starring Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi and Rosamund Pike

Saltburn, Emerald Fennell

Emerald Fennell’s sophomore movie, Saltburn, emerges from the rubble of her polarizing debut, Promising Young Woman, with a cast that elevates the material despite its endlessly convoluted and plainly put narrative. This comedy-drama-thriller hybrid film weaves a perplexing tale of obsession, deception, and tragedy within the confines of the aristocratic Catton family’s titular estate.

Fennell, known for her provocative storytelling, attempts to delve into the complexities and blurred lines of class and morality. However, the film falters in its execution, resulting in a story that feels uneven and disjointed.

Barry Keoghan and Jacob Elordi headline the cast as Oliver Quick and Felix Catton, respectively. Keoghan’s portrayal of Oliver, a scholarship student with a sinister side, is a standout, again showcasing his versatility and malevolence as an actor. Elordi, playing the devilishly charming Felix, complements Keoghan’s intensity with a charismatic presence that adds depth to their complex relationship. The two work hand in hand, and Saltburn is easily its best when the two are sharing the screen.

The film’s plot begins to unfold at Oxford University in 2006, where Oliver’s obsession with Felix reaches unsettling heights. The dynamics shift when Felix invites Oliver to spend the summer at the opulent Saltburn estate, setting the table for a series of unforeseen and audacious events.

Saltburn’s greatest strength lies in its ensemble cast. Rosamund Pike, as Lady Elspeth, and Archie Madekwe, portraying the conflicted cousin Farleigh, deliver standout performances. Pike’s delightfully deranged portrayal adds an extra layer of intrigue to the film, while Madekwe proves himself again as a rising star in the industry.

Linus Sandgren’s cinematography also shines, capturing the opulence of Saltburn and the contrasting darkness that lurks beneath its polished surface. The film’s visual elements, combined with Anthony B. Willis’s haunting score, contribute to a palpable sense of unease that constantly overshadows the story.

But despite these strengths, Saltburn falls victim to Fennell’s penchant for shock and bombast. The film is filled with provocative and eerie set pieces (particularly a disturbing bathtub sequence and a tombstone scene – you’ll know when you see them, and you’ll never forget them) but these elements often feel gratuitous and disconnected from the overarching story.

Reviews for Films like Saltburn (2023)

The plot’s tonal inconsistencies and pacing issues hinder the audience’s ability to fully invest in the characters and their motives. The B-plot involving Farleigh and Oliver’s competition for attention feels forced and oddly conceived, and ultimately falls flat, contributing to the overall sense of a thinly written story.

Fennell’s storytelling style, while unique, struggles to find a cohesive balance. This is honestly quite similar to Promising Young Woman, and one of the major issues I had with that film. Saltburn touches on timely themes, but it often feels like it capitalizes on them rather than genuinely exploring the complexities of gender roles and classism.

Saltburn is surely an improvement over Promising Young Woman due to its stellar cast, but it still remains a film with a cobbled-together narrative that lacks the substance to support its ambitious themes. Fennell’s potential as a filmmaker is evident, but she may benefit from collaborating with stronger material that aligns with her unique visual sensibilities.

Saltburn invites viewers into a surreal world of privilege and deceit, propelled by a stellar cast and impressive cinematography. However, the film’s storytelling shortcomings and thematic inconsistencies prevent it from reaching its full potential, leaving you with a compelling yet flawed cinematic experience.

Rating

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Thriller

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Saltburn Movie Cast and Credits

Saltburn movie poster

Cast

Barry Keoghan as Oliver Quick

Jacob Elordi as Felix Catton

Rosamund Pike as Elspeth Catton

Richard E. Grant as Sir James Catton

Alison Oliver as Venetia Catton

Archie Madekwe as Farleigh Start

Carey Mulligan as Poor Dear Pamela

Crew

Director: Emerald Fennell

Writer: Emerald Fennell

Cinematography: Linus Sandgren

Editor: Victoria Boydell

Composer: Anthony B. Willis

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