Saltburn | Fresh Takes
Fresh takes and film reviews from new voices in film.
Sarah, Aoife & Ollie
14 Nov 23
Fresh Takes is a space for the latest generation of film lovers to share their views and opinions on some of the great films we are showing at Picturehouse cinemas.
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Here are some Fresh Takes on Saltburn, a beautifully wicked tale of privilege and desire from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman), starring Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike and Richard E. Grant.
Sarah Edwards, 24Sarah is an Edinburgh-based writer who works with The New Black Film Collective to bring black-led films to audiences across the UK.
From the moment Oliver and Felix meet, their friendship feels balanced on a razor's edge, one false step from falling apart.
The two Oxford boys could not be more different: Oliver is awkward and unlikeable, while Felix is dazzlingly handsome and charismatic. Jacob Elordi is perfectly cast as Felix, conveying an affability and dark possessiveness that makes it easy to understand why Oliver clings to him so desperately. The mystery of Saltburn is never if their relationship will end in catastrophe, but how much it will take down in the process.
Saltburn shows wealth on an incomprehensible scale. The grand estate is an endless maze of corridors, black-tie dinners, and priceless pottery collections. Fennell does not shy away from the absurdity of this family and their fortune, instead leaning into it to create a delightfully uncanny experience. The family's quick banter is a highlight, and Rosamund Pike's comedic timing as Elspeth is particularly sharp.
Every character in this film is a new, fun flavour of the most awful person imaginable, and each one is more desperate than the next to tear the others apart. The more Oliver longs to escape into Saltburn, the more viciously they kick him down – and as his own dark side comes to light, there's a thrill in seeing just how far their carefully constructed life can unravel. The film certainly stumbles trying to sustain momentum through its latter half, but there's enough mystery to uncover to make it worth seeing through.
Aoife is a Master's student in environmental science, currently on a gap year filled with slow, sustainable travel, poetry, novel-writing, getting involved in eco-feminist activism and learning how to sail and repair sailboats. You can find Aoife on Instagram at @hoppinghalcyon.
Saltburn is the story of a lure – but who is the hunter and who is the prey? With all the skin-crawling weirdness of a Roald Dahl short story, it starts straightforwardly and becomes steadily more disturbing as it spirals into a series of cleverly foreshadowed twists and turns.
One-upping the sexual tension of The Talented Mr Ripley, one can't help but wonder whether the shock effect of certain scenes is truly necessary in serving either the plot or the aesthetic. From tight frames to the details of wet skin, its obsessive, voyeuristic tone questions the protagonist's lust for wealth and draws us in with an unashamed lack of subtlety, until it's too late to back out from the twisted intimacy that links all the characters.
Although the magnificent build-up does fall a little flat, with a rushed resolution which leaves too many questions unanswered and weakens its satirical potential, the film is carried throughout by the brilliant performances of a perfect cast. Barry Keoghan as Oliver is flawless, mesmerisingly disturbing through every behaviour shift; Jacob Elordi convinces you of Felix's privileged charisma effortlessly, and Rosamund Pike delivers some of the most hilarious lines with delicious nonchalance.
Ollie, 24, works in politics. An avid cinephile, Ollie is on the lookout for the next film to take his breath away. Good music, thoughtful cinematography, and clever dialogue are what drive his tastes. More of Ollie's writing is here: olliebradfield.substack.com
We seem to love decadence turned on its head at the moment: Triangle of Sadness, Babylon, TV's Succession. But Saltburn does something else. It's difficult to say how exactly it subverts this without spoilers, but suffice it to say that Barry Keoghan does it superbly, proving once again that he is one of the finest actors working today.
Alongside him, Richard E. Grant's hammy, 'Mr. Dick'-style aristocrat provides the sort of role he was born to play. He's a joy to watch on screen as he balances grotesquely dark humour with barely repressed heartbreak and sorrow.
The film is also fun to watch for people who enjoy storytelling through the medium itself (look, a Dutch angle!). Seeing films that are stylish, well-performed, and just effortlessly competent is a real treat. There's plenty of allegory to digest too – questions of passion, pleasure, trust, truth, and the bizarre English class system are rife.
If you're willing to cast aside the odd loose narrative thread and the occasional weak line delivery, this is a near-perfect film. Easily in the top 10 of the year, and thoroughly recommended.