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The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

“Saltburn” – Emerald Fennell’s promising young man?

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Saltburn. A glorious estate serving as the birthplace to a myriad of intense, outlandish endeavors. Emerald Fennell’s 2023 film follows Oliver Quick, played by Barry Keoghan, and his arrival as a freshman at Oxford University. Shy and quite odd, he struggles to find his place in his new environment until he meets Jacob Elordi’s charming Felix Catton. Felix is loved and adored by many, seemingly the main attraction at Oxford. A brief encounter brings Oliver and Felix together, and the two soon begin an unlikely “friendship” disguised by a sociopathic obsession. In spite of Oliver’s dark, cryptic past, he’s invited by Felix to stay at the dazzling Saltburn, the eccentric Catton family home. Unbeknownst to all, Oliver’s true intentions are slowly revealed, and try as we might, we can’t look away.

Visually, the world of “Saltburn” is masterfully crafted. I found myself gasping at certain shots simply because of the detail put into creating them. The use of mirrors and reflections, symmetry, and ominous lighting tie into its seductive images. Fennell tends to utilize bright colors to contrast the underlying morbidity in the content of her films. In 2020, she released “Promising Young Woman,” a story concerning a woman named Cassie (played by Carey Mulligan, who returns for a minor role in “Saltburn”) with one goal: to avenge her best friend’s suicide by targeting men like the ones who drove her to it. The story itself harbors incredibly tense themes, but Fennell’s direction plasters a saturated cover right on top. Although many people have different opinions on the film’s ending, I found a lot to admire. Extravagant visuals sometimes have a tendency to take away from the severity of a message, but in “Saltburn,” they work alongside each other to create an illustrious narrative. The mise en scène has a hint of fervor that accompanies the characters’ journeys. Oliver serves as a representation of the lower-middle class, the downtrodden, the ones without luxury, while the Catton family’s affluence is physically manifested in the elaborate nature of the cinematography. When Oliver first arrives and is given the grand tour of Saltburn, the camera tracks Felix rapidly from room to room and briefly cuts to Oliver’s reactions. This puts us in Oliver’s shoes for a moment, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this lifestyle, physically and metaphorically unable to keep up. Time and time again, bright lights and chaotic party scenes suck us into their world, and when the focus is on Oliver we get a moment of stillness. It’s only in the final scene, an epic, jaw-dropping sequence to Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s “Murder on the Dancefloor” commemorating his successful plan, that the energy shifts; what once was out of reach has finally been attained.

Barry Keoghan and Jacob Elordi’s performances drive the film. Keoghan is known to play bizarre characters with a weird edge, and Oliver Quick is no exception. At first glance, he comes off just as a nerdy student, then, almost alarmingly, his attitude shifts to reveal his true colors. What formerly seemed to be a playful, innocuous captivation turns into a series of depraved, grotesque acts that grace the screen as Oliver wickedly infiltrates the Cattons. His infatuation with Felix only grows stronger as the film progresses, and the other members of the family fall victim to his conniving ways. It’s an irresistibly aberrant turn of events, and much like “Promising Young Woman,” there is no hint of remorse. As an audience, we are kept intrigued, wondering how much worse it could possibly get from what we’ve predicted. Until the end, we’re strung along this absurd ride packed with heinous scheme after scheme. A standout performance from Rosamund Pike as Felix’s mother Elsbeth keeps us on our toes until, unfortunately, her fate matches the others’. Like Cassie, Oliver has his own devilish agenda, but for more convoluted reasons.

“Saltburn” feels like a separate realm from the rest of the world. It exudes mid-aught wealth and luscious power, which is fundamentally stripped from beneath without realizing. A magnificent energy oozes from the manor: summer days spent tipsy and lounging by the poolside, erratic nights spent drunk in black-tie. The story painted by Fennell feels incipiently inviting, but quickly becomes a hellish dreamscape turned into the rich’s worst nightmare.

Grade: B+

Director: Emerald Fennell

Starring: Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi

Release Date: November 17, 2023

Rating: R

Image courtesy of Forbes

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About the Contributor
Arshia Singh, Staff Writer
lover of all things movies and music, warm-scented candles, philosophy, sour candy, and silver jewelry. usually has a book in one hand and a yerba in the other.
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