Jamie Skinner reviews Saltburn, Emerald Fennell's latest film: Reluctant to return home, Oxford student Oliver (Barry Keoghan) finds himself drawn into fellow student Felix’s (Jacob Elordi) wealthy family and estate, potentially staying beyond the summer.
Saltburn Cert - 15, Run-time - 2 hours 7 minutes, Director - Emerald Fennell
Off the back of winning a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for her excellent debut Promising Young Woman writer-director Emerald Fennell returns with an equally striking script for follow-up Saltburn. The sharp script is the biggest grip of the film as you feel it beating throughout, digging into class satire as the darkness arises within the narrative. Undeniably, it’s the best part of the film.
Held within is the story of Oliver (Barry Keoghan), an Oxford student who stands out to the viewer due to how much he doesn’t stand out to everyone else. That is until he lends his bike to the ever-swarmed and popular Felix (Jacob Elordi). The two eventually form a bond and after hinting at troubles with his parents at home, suggesting addiction and a distant relationship, Oliver finds himself invited to Felix’s home for the summer.
The vastly wealthy residents of the sprawling Saltburn estate largely welcome “the scholarship boy who buys his clothes from Oxfam” with open arms, and thus begins the satire. If there’s one thing the trailers for Saltburn have missed it’s just how funny the film is. There are a good deal of laughs to be found as Fennell delves into class differences in conversations between Oliver and Felix’s family. This is an entirely new world - one where costume parties are held so that people can wear their suit of armour, a line gleefully delivered by Richard E. Grant.
Amongst the comedic takedown of the rich there’s also a darkly dramatic tone growing over the course of the run-time. As Oliver becomes more a part of Saltburn the more it seems that he may end up staying beyond the summer, becoming intoxicated by the walls and grounds around him. Much of which is delivered with a wry smile from Fennell’s screenplay, very different to Promising Young Woman but still containing a punchy spark.
While the darkness helps to show Oliver delving deeper and deeper into this world, with some leanings potentially making this a fitting origin story for Keoghan’s Joker, the stranger moments of drama may well disconnect some viewers. More ‘out there’ points (you’ll know when you see them) which will either turn people away completely, or come across as somewhat odd before moving on with the narrative again. If disengaged then this might seem an even longer film, already slightly lengthy at just over two hours with the more apparent twists and turns held for the final stages.
Yet, there’s still an engaging dramatic satire here. One which may not quite live up to its excellent screenplay at all times, but still manages to provide a good bite to the proceedings. Without that script it may not have the same handle on the tonal shifts, and may even simply feel more generic. If you can stay with it, there’s a good deal to be caught up in within Saltburn. Jamie Skinner, four stars ****