Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman was my favorite film of 2020. I saw it at Sundance and was waiting for something in 2020 to top it, but that never happened. I still can’t believe that Carey Mulligan didn’t win Best Actress that year because she should have won. Needless to say, I have been anxiously awaiting Fennell’s next film. When it was announced that Saltburn would be premiering at the 50th Annual Telluride Film Festival, I knew I had to attend that first screening.
Saltburn stars Barry Keoghan as Oliver Quick, a newbie to Oxford University who is desperately trying to fit in. At a party, Oliver meets the handsome and charming Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), whom he is immediately drawn to. After sharing personal details about his family, Felix invites Oliver to join him at Saltburn, his family’s estate, for the summer. However, what happens that summer at Saltburn will change their lives forever.
There will be a lot of conversation centered around Saltburn over the next several months. It will be a film that is sure to divide audiences and will rub some people the wrong way. It’s dark, bold, and ballsy, but that’s Fennell’s style. She isn’t a filmmaker who makes movies that go down easy. Instead, she is a visionary filmmaker who likes to challenge her audience. She takes big swings and isn’t afraid to go places where other filmmakers are scared to go.
When discussing or reviewing Saltburn, many are likely to reference The Talented Mr. Ripley, which undoubtedly is the inspiration behind the film. While Saltburn sometimes feels like a modern-day reiteration of Ripley, Fennell makes the story her own and puts together a brilliant cast to play a series of eccentric characters that take the movie to another level. Fennell’s script is filled with razor-sharp dialogue and jabs at the rich. She is also unafraid of uncomfortable moments, which there are plenty of throughout.
Barry Keoghan, as Oliver, delivers a haunting performance that is as darkly comedic as it is disturbing. He truly embraces the material head-on, and some of his scenes will legitimately make you say, “What the fuck?” out loud several times. Keoghan deserves to be recognized for this role because he wasn’t afraid to go to profoundly dark and disturbing places to make this one of the year’s most memorable performances. While Keoghan carries most of the weight of the film on his shoulders, the supporting cast also brings a lot to the table.
I want to see Rosamund Pike in more comedic roles between her role in I Care A Lot and her performance in Saltburn. She delivers all of her lines of dialogue with such great comedic timing. Throughout the film, Pike is often paired alongside Carey Mulligan and Richard E. Grant, who, just like Pike, are all very funny in their supporting roles. Alison Oliver, who plays Venetia, is also excellent. Multiple scenes with her and Keoghan seemed challenging, yet they pulled off those tough moments with such ease.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the look and style of the film. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren has genuinely created a work of art with this film. Even if you don’t like the movie, it is almost impossible not to appreciate its beauty. There are countless scenes that viewers will want to freeze-frame so that they can print them out and hang them in a gallery. The visuals are absolutely breathtaking.
Saltburn is the most batshit crazy film you’ll see this year. It’s exquisitely shot, and Fennell directs the hell out of it. This is one of those films you won’t stop thinking about for days after seeing it. It will surely be divisive, but like Promising Young Woman, it will be a conversation starter. Fennell is two for two!