Saltburn: The BRWC Review. By Rudie Obias
With the critical and commercial success of Promising Young Woman, filmmaker Emerald Fennell follows up her debut feature film with something that’s broader in scope and vision, but doesn’t quite have the punch as her Academy Award-winning first movie. However, Saltburn is a clear example that Promising Young Woman wasn’t just a one-trick-pony or fluke, while Fennell has the chops to gain interest from general audiences and cinephiles, alike.
Written and directed by Emerald Fennell, Saltburn follows Oliver Quick, played by Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk, The Killing of a Sacred Deer), a new student at Oxford University in 2006. He’s lonely and awkward, but finds himself in the middle of the cool crowd after a chance encounter with Felix Catton, played by Jacob Elordi (Priscilla, Deep Water), who is the big man on campus. Catton takes to Quick instantly, as he invites him to his family’s big and luxurious estate in Saltburn, England. After a long summer of drunken debauchery, Quick may have asked for more than he bargained for.
Meanwhile, there’s a subplot involving the privilege of Felix’s cousin Farleigh, played by Archie Madekwe (Heart of Stone, Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story), and his sister Venetia, played by Alison Oliver in her feature film debut. Both reflect Quick’s desires, financially and sexually, respectively. Farleigh doesn’t work, but lives a life of luxury, while Venetia is sexually active, but doesn’t know where to place that energy or how to use it for her advantage. Moreover, through the course of the film, the two get intertwined, as Quick jumps in-and-out of bed to get what he wants from whomever he wants. He starts off repressed, but later becomes pure, unadulterated id.
Saltburn is, ultimately, a film about desire and doing whatever you can to get what you want, even if you have to get your hands dirty. While Keoghan’s Oliver Quick is mysterious and slight, he’s also unclear why Fennell decided to make his motivations ambiguous throughout a majority of the film. Once it’s revealed, it doesn’t really add up to much, while taking a direct approach might have made the movie a bit more juicy and fun. Meanwhile, Elordi’s Felix Catton is the biggest takeaway of the film. He’s a revelation balancing sensitivity with a bit of darkness and selfishness.
Although the movie is expertly filmed and sharp witted, Saltburn is a mixed bag with moments of brilliance paired with bewildering decisions, like character motivations and choice of aspect ratio (the whole film is present in boxy 1.33:1 aspect ratio). It doesn’t hit as hard as Fennell’s first film, but it shows her ambition to make something bigger and different. However, it just doesn’t land with its final hour just spinning its wheels to the film’s climax. It’s a really humpy movie!
We hope you're enjoying BRWC. You should check us out on our social channels, subscribe to our newsletter, and tell your friends. BRWC is short for battleroyalewithcheese.