Starring: Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike, Richard E. Grant, Alison Oliver, Archie Madekwe, and Carey Mulligan
Director: Emerald Fennell
Although Saltburn isn’t as polarizing as Emerald Fennell’s previous film, Promising Young Woman, since its themes don’t stick the landing as strongly as in its predecessor, it’s still a dazzling film. It’s immaculately shot, horny as hell, and filled with spicy dialogue that allows the film’s cast to shine throughout, especially Barry Keoghan, who delivers one of the best performances of the year. It’s a memorable eat-the-rich film like The Talented Mr. Ripley and Ingrid Goes West that will have you licking your plate, yearning for more.
Saltburn, writer-director Emerald Fennell’s follow-up to the excellent Promising Young Woman (her feature directorial debut, for which she won Best Original Screenplay), ultimately feels like the result of a filmmaker being given creative control too soon after a breakout. Despite outstanding performances, beautifully shot scenes, and a tremendously engaging setup, the second half simply has too much going on. It’s overstuffed, rushed, and underdeveloped. It’s still very good, mind you, and Fennell is an amazing talent; however, it may have been better as a miniseries in order to flesh out the back end a bit more. Or maybe Fennell just needed someone to give her some honest notes to rein it in a bit.
Saltburn is a dark, partially sadomasochistic work that makes one wonder if the grass is truly greener on the other side of our perceived social hierarchy. Director Emerald Fennell plays with her audience regarding typical character assumptions and delivers her message of trust, desire, and greed quite cleverly. Barry Keoghan and Jacob Elordi turn in masterful performances, and the visuals are stunning in this Gothic thriller that had me watching out of one eye due to some particularly disturbing scenes that really drive home the thematic messaging while also making me question, “was that really necessary?”
Even with Barry Keoghan’s magnetism and Jacob Elordi’s charm, writer/director Emerald Fennell is somehow the star of Saltburn. Her energetic direction and indulgent script keep you fixated on what’s gonna happen next, even when you’re not fully satisfied with the result. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the film, but there isn’t anything extravagant either (no matter how much the story’s decadence tries to get you there). The cast is mesmerizing, the plot is engrossing, and the direction is entrancing, yet, when the sum of these parts reach an ending, you are ultimately left wanting.
Saltburn is a film I loved for the vibes alone, but there’s something about its flaws that isn’t sitting well with me. Writer/director Emerald Fennell's sophomore feature sees her direction improve greatly, with the film's craft and tone so precise and so impressive. Linus Sandgren's cinematography specifically made me think, "how is this possible?" Sadly though, the film's reliance on shock value is apparent, and it becomes less justified once the big twist is revealed…a twist that left me with more questions than answers. While I quite enjoyed Saltburn, it is a step down from Promising Young Woman.
This film was reviewed by Quentin as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2023 Zurich Film Festival.