Biting and abundantly fluid – both in terms of sexuality and body liquids – Emerald Fennell’s second feature proves an exceptionally bold project for MGM (now an Amazon company) to produce, and an even bolder choice to open a festival with, as it did London Film Festival 2023. With Saltburn, the winner of 2021’s Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Promising Young Woman delivers another incredibly hard-to-pigeonhole black comedy/psychological thriller blend, that will have laughter stick in the spectator’s throat with every grim twist and turn.
In recent interviews, Sophia Coppola revealed that she cast Jacob Elordi as Elvis Presley in Priscilla due to his natural magnetism upon entering a roomm and in the opening scenes of Saltburn one can clearly see his charisma at work. In a wide shot set in an Oxford University dining hall, dozens of students share equal space on screen, yet the viewers’ eyes are immediately drawn to Elordi’s Felix and his winning smile. Fellow student Oliver (Barry Keoghan) is not immune to the stud’s allure and grasps at the opportunity to be accepted into his inner circle, eventually leading to an invitation to the ominously lavish family estate Saltburn for the summer.
The way scholarship holder Oliver is paraded around the Catton family (comprised of a ravishing Rosamund Pike, Richard E Grant and Alison Oliver) draws sharp similes to the enjoyment of reality television and the exploitation of the poor as a means of entertainment for the privileged.
DOP Linus Sandgren (La La Land, Babylon) once again astonishes with his keen eye for people and the spaces they inhabit. Presented in 4:3 ratio, the tightness of the screen action practically places the viewer in front of a peephole, making them a complicit voyeur. The cinematography plays with the perspective, alternating between bird’s-eye views reminiscent of the early days of Instagram (still a few years off from the 2006 setting) and moving within the character’s line of sight, extracting reflections wherever possible: glass, mirrors, water, to foreshadow the two faces of these characters and their unsound friendship.
The casting is superb, each actor excelling in their role, especially Keoghan who once again surpasses himself, despite his Irish intonation slipping into a supposedly Scouse accent.
Comparisons to Parasite and The Talented Mr Ripley seem unavoidable, but due to its unique style and tone, the picture and Fennell as a director remain truly incalculable and dazzling.
Saltburn is released nationwide on 17th November 2023.
Watch the trailer for Saltburn here: