‘Saltburn’ Review – Happily Drowning In A Sea Of Luxury
Set in 2006 at Oxford University, Saltburn follows Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), a devoted college student who is a loner. Oliver becomes obsessed with classmate Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi). Felix is popular and successful solely because he’s good-looking and he was born into money. As Oliver and Felix become fast friends, Felix invites Oliver to Saltburn, which is his family’s ridiculously massive estate for the summer.
From writer and director Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman), Saltburn sounds boring on paper. The film is a dramatic psychological thriller with surprisingly funny laugh-out-loud dark humor, and the ensemble cast is overwhelmingly riveting and entertaining.
In a weird, coincidental way, Saltburn dives into the rich eating itself. It’s reminiscent of films that tackle the poor overthrowing the rich in some capacity. However, everyone has access to superfluous amounts of money in Saltburn, lucking out thanks to their connections over any hard work.
Oliver and his relationship with Felix is intriguing. Part love, part hate, and part pure infatuation, unwrapping how Oliver truly feels about Felix and his real motivation factors into the overall uniquely twisted experience that is Saltburn. Felix feels sorry for Oliver early on, and Oliver leans into that in more ways than one.
The longer Oliver stays at Saltburn, the more you realize the Catton family thinks they’re doing what’s best for someone. Financial entitlement has blinded decent judgment. While they may be helping people financially, or offering them a place to stay, they never stop belittling them. The Cattons are looking down on people for all of the right reasons.
The film leans into the aspect of a scholarly-dedicated loner eventually having an in with the popular crowd, but it becomes so much more as Saltburn trudges on. Oliver finds a kindred spirit when he first arrives at Oxford.
Michael Gavey (Ewan Mitchell, House of the Dragon) studies math because he’s bored — being the first to point out how no one will invite them to anything. Michael’s defining moment is when he bites the middle of a candy bar directly out of its wrapper, which leads you to believe that he will eventually become a sociopath.
Rosamund Pike portrays Felix’s mother, Elspeth, and she gets the biggest laughs in the film. Elspeth thrives on gossip and has no filter whatsoever — spilling all the personal details about her friend Pamela (Carey Mulligan), who is also staying with them and has had a rough life leading up to this point. Soaking up the absolute worst in people, Elspeth is a sponge for drama; making her all the more memorable because of it.
Oliver is mocked and looked down upon by nearly everyone who isn’t Felix. He’s a shy, quiet type who lives vicariously through someone who is effortlessly charismatic and sought after. Oliver spies on Felix as he lurks in the shadows, peers through windows, and peeks through door cracks during Felix’s most private and intimate moments.
Barry Keoghan bounces back and forth between being this polite, timid student and attempting to keep his monstrously manipulative demeanor at bay.
You could argue that some of the film’s more shocking and perverted sequences aren’t warranted. While Oliver’s vampire scene in the courtyard with Felix’s sister Venetia (Alison Oliver) and his ongoing conflict with Felix’s cousin Farleigh (Archie Madekwe, Beau is Afraid) factor into the story, the all too memorable bathtub sequence, Oliver’s interactions at a particular grave at a cemetery in the rain, and the final dance number set to Murder on the Dance Floor all dive into the sadistic nature of pure and utter admiration but realistically don’t serve much more of a purpose.
These shocking moments are some of the most memorable from any film this year, but they seem only to implicate just how sickly possessed someone can be, over-loving them so much that they hate them.
If you saw Promising Young Woman, then you have a general concept of the type of film Saltburn is. The story feels simple enough at first, but it becomes a complicated love story as this overflowing sense of layered debauchery unravels more and more. It’s greed, it’s lust, and it’s diving headfirst into personal desires.
The film is this gluttonous form of luxury that’s deadly and intoxicating as much as it is orgasmically gratifying. There’s that sense of morbid embarrassment and disgust that everyone feels after masturbating.
Saltburn embraces that universally cosmic dread of being a revolting human being and builds an extravagant labyrinth of a castle on top of it. Saltburn is disgustingly mesmerizing, and Barry Keoghan gives the perverted performance of a lifetime.