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  • Writer's pictureNoah Yard

Saltburn: Shock and Nah.

Saltburn, which is director Emerald Fennel's second movie, is one of platitudes and shimmering layers that ultimately grow dull the more you expose it to the light. The actors, who include Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, and Rossumund Pike all put up a good fight and a valiant effort, but great acting and the film's shocking imagery don’t fully make up for its two-hour run time.


There are a handful of never-forget moments in Saltburn, great moments in cinema that made me and my friend guffaw in disbelief, “What am I WATCHING??” I asked myself multiple times. And while that can be fun, exciting and sexy, eventually you do have to ask yourself…. “Well, what is this thing that I am actually watching? What is happening? Who are these people.” Sometimes that can work in a shock-and-awe kind of movie but unfortunately, not so much here.


The film centres on Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) a poor scholarship boy, with a tragic mysterious past, making it in Oxford, but not socially. That is until he runs into the enigmatic Felix (Jacob Elordi), who in this movie shines brighter than the sun. So hot, so charming.


The film would want you to believe that it is about an unrequited love or an obsession on one boy’s part, a homoerotic triumph I thought I was in for! But, alas, it was not meant to be. As the movie takes several twists and turns that take you out of that and turns a lens on obsession itself. How it evolves, how it can change you and rot your insides.


As Oliver and Felix dance around one another, one seemingly in awe of the pretty rich boy, the other seeing a charity case, Felix issues an invitation to Saltburn, his family’s estate. For the most part for a long stint of the movies length, Oliver has a good time, perving on his uni friend and gossiping with Felix’s mother (Rosamund Pike) about horrible things.


It’s in these little moments that we start to realise some strange things about Oliver. After telling Felix about his tragic past, his dead dad, and financial struggles, cracks start to appear.


He speaks with a strange, steadfast confidence to the Catton family. He digs his hooks in in interesting, shocking, and downright disgusting ways. Soon he has ingratiated himself so much that Elspeth, the matriarch of Saltburn, simply can’t be without his company.


I won’t go into further spoilers, if you really want to see this movie it’s better to not know what you’re in for. But I will continue to say that, unfortunately, the rest of the film relies quite heavily on shock value, and that’s why I won’t go any further because, to me, that’s all you really get. Some scenes will make you laugh, cry out in horror, feel sick to your stomach, or just don’t make any damn sense. Either way that is the fun and joy of Saltburn. THAT’S the reason you go.


But you stay for the acting performances given. Rosamund Pike plays a fantastic role, as she so often does, being flighty and socially tone-deaf she is the perfect aristocratic lady of the house. She comes out with some zinger lines and even when it’s a dark scene her bubbly weirdness is intoxicating. Jacob Elordi does well, as does Richard E. Grant who plays Felix’s father, and Alison Oliver who plays Venetia, Felix’s sister. Carrey Mulligan is in it for a bit and is hilarious, it’s a shame she wasn’t utilised more. Archie Madekwe plays a great foil for Oliver as cousin Farleigh as well, though his storyline was a bit unclear to me.


But what do you say about Barry Keoghan? You could say he’s a genius, or a madman, or a psycho or an innocent little weirdo. He plays all these roles so well, each fitting like a glove. He’s disturbing and off-putting yet you can’t look away because it’s like watching a masterclass. And he improvised one of the movie's most bizarre scenes (no not that one the other one,) which, on reflection, does make him kind of crazy IRL.


Now if that’s what director Emerald Fennell is going for, good for her, the key scenes in the film are really impactful. They’d be even more impactful if you could properly see what’s going on. That brings us to the film's mise en scene and editing.

It feels like every scene was shot at night with no lighting at all. It’s often unclear which characters are on screen until their name has been spoken, and at one point the skin of one character was lit orange, and I thought I’d slipped into the wrong theatre to see Wonka. There are some beautiful shots, “This film is a renaissance painting!” the stans yell on Twitter but no. The film's few good shots are overwhelmed by something that was difficult to see, hear or comprehend. Also with Oxford and a grand estate to shoot in those settings felt wasted.


The one thing I will compliment in this area is the music. Cleverly chosen, sometimes fitting, sometimes not on purpose. All I know is I will never hear “Murder on the Dancefloor,” the same way ever again.


Now I know I’ve given the film a bit of a shellacking, and I may be a bit unfair, but the movie is very polarising. You might go into it and love it, and have a solid case for why I’m wrong, but I think that’s the point. Or you’re just watching it to ogle at Jacob Elordi and see Barry Keoghan get his tackle out and that’s valid too.

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