Set in 2006, awkward introvert Oliver is befriended by the wealthy, popular and handsome Felix while studying at Oxford University, and he invites him to summer at his beautiful family estate, Saltburn. As the summer plays out, the film takes a gothic and sinister turn, full of deceit, betrayal and death, fueled by hedonistic desire.
The film’s influences are clear. Writer and director, Emerald Fennell, who released her debut film Promising Young Woman in 2020, has noted Brideshead Revisited and Rebecca as influential sources, to name a few. But the elements of hedonistic obsession and desire to become an insider make the film redolent of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Othello, and even Gossip Girl. The tale of an inferior outsider desperate to access a world of lavish social importance and privilege is one as old as time, and Fennell’s disturbing execution of this trope is alluring.
The tale of an inferior outsider desperate to access a world of lavish social importance and privilege is one as old as time, and Fennell’s disturbing execution of this trope is alluring.
The originality of Fennell’s creation is extraordinary. The film feels classic and gothic, despite the 2006 setting full of cringe-worthy eyebrow piercings and slogan t-shirts. The plot is intriguing, and the twist is bone-chilling and primarily unforeseeable. The film is amusing in a way that makes you feel intelligent for understanding, while being equally perverse and voyeuristic. The setting of the stunning Saltburn estate (Northamptonshire’s Dayton House in reality) is enchanting and Kharmel Cochrane’s casting is perfect. Jacob Elordi wholly encapsulates unattainable ‘it-boy’ Felix, and his British accent isn’t half bad for an Australian native. Barry Keoghan is perfectly chilling as chameleon-like Oliver, and the inclusion of Rosamund Pike and Richard E. Grant as Felix’s charmingly audacious parents make it a particularly strong cast.
The film is amusing in a way that makes you feel intelligent for understanding, while being equally perverse and voyeuristic.
However, the film has its disappointments. While Saltburn is marketed as satirical, an ‘eat the rich’ emblem, Fennell’s appetite seems rather absent. Saltburn doesn’t seem to be chastising the arrogance of Britain’s elite, but rather encouraging of it. As a privately educated Oxford grad herself, it seems Fennell is all too cautious to chastise characters too reflective of herself, settling for surface-level jibes at the eccentricity of England’s uber-privileged, instead of any real comment on their haughtiness, frequently generalising the working-class as insultingly as possible. As the film draws to an end and Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s ‘Murder on the Dancefloor’ haunts the halls of Saltburn, the film appears to be demonising the working and middle-classes as vulgarian fraudsters, while Felix and his family are all too trusting victims, who have had their hands bitten by those that they have fed.
While Saltburn is marketed as satirical, an ‘eat the rich’ emblem, Fennell’s appetite seems rather absent.
That being said, Saltburn is a dramatic thriller, and doesn’t claim to be a political commentary or have much of a strong moral viewpoint, which becomes evident when watching the film. Overall, Saltburn’s disturbing, outrageous and lavish nature makes for a perversely enjoyable two hours, and like all good films, you will leave the cinema immensely disturbed.