REVIEW: “Saltburn” serves guts and glory

Barry Keoghan walks the red carpet at the D23 EXPO in Aug. 2019. Photo credit: Walt Disney Television via CC Commons
Barry Keoghan walks the red carpet at the D23 EXPO in Aug. 2019.
Barry Keoghan walks the red carpet at the D23 EXPO in Aug. 2019. Photo credit: Walt Disney Television via CC Commons

Forgoing a predictable plot and basic characters, upcoming film “Saltburn” delights audiences with its excellent cinematography and compelling suspense. Director and writer Emerald Fennell portrays the twisted fantasies and urges of rabid humans as the film takes the phrase, “eat the rich,” literally.

“Saltburn” follows Oxford University student Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), who invites his classmate and social outcast Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) to his family estate, Saltburn. Oliver grows obsessed with the Catton family as violent mishaps ensue, leading to an unforgettable summer.

Saturated hues and ornate sets make the film pure eye candy. The ratio between its projected size and a film screen is small, making closeups feel intimate and personal. Chaotic party sequences and private, emotional breakdowns are directed with identical precision.

The masterful lighting scheme also adds to the film’s subtext, with creative, practical lighting instilling a sense of realism. Innocent conversation is distorted as light beams through blood-colored curtains.

Elordi embodies a wealthy extrovert in every aspect of his voice and body language, while supporting actors Alison Oliver and Archie Madekwe — who play Felix’s sister and cousin — personify privilege and insecurity through their dialogue. Rounding out the family unit as Felix’s mother, actress Rosamund Pike delivers dry humor and ignores tragedy to protect her status.

Reminding audiences of his Oscar-nominee status, Keoghan’s phenomenal performance as the mysterious Oliver enthrall viewers. The actor’s innocent features eerily contrast his character’s sinister aura and ulterior motives.

Embed from Getty Images

Those familiar with Fennel’s film “Promising Young Woman” may expect “Saltburn” to present a similar David-versus-Goliath story. Subverting expectations, this film goes against anti-rich sentiment, a notion popularized by renowned shows like “Succession” and “The White Lotus.”

The two-hour movie sacrifices character development to focus on aesthetically-pleasing sights. Though opinions of Oliver may change, the film never gives a satisfying explanation for Oliver’s nature, even after it provides a glimpse into his childhood.

Predictable plotlines damage the film’s potential. Though Oliver’s devious acts are exposed, a quick lie or sexual exchange makes consequences disappear. “Saltburn” doesn’t make you wonder if Oliver will succeed, but rather how he will.

Antagonists are never truly threatening as Oliver rapidly overcomes their influence — instead, audiences are left fearing his plans. Such strategy harms the film’s opening, but amplifies its ending as viewers realize there is reason to fear Oliver. Similarly, dialogue evolves throughout “Saltburn” as lines said early on take a darker meaning by the film’s end.

“Saltburn” criticizes high-class patronizing attitudes through the Catton family, who accept Oliver to keep up a good-natured facade. The film’s ending, however, illustrates how the seemingly-innocent cannot mask their true identity for long.

Despite the faulty characters and murky plot, “Saltburn” stands as a mesmerizing psychological thriller with disturbing scenes that twist your stomach. Like its titular setting, the film seems flawless until you look through the cracks and see its lost potential.

Rating: 3.5/5