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  • Nate Adams

'Saltburn' review: Barry Keoghan brings the swagger in Emerald Fennell’s tasty black comedy

Courtesy of MGM/Amazon Studios


Emerald Fennell’s “Saltburn,” a sizzlingly, provocative follow-up to her stunner “Promising Young Woman,” isn’t exactly the type of film you want to put on for the family at Thanksgiving. Or maybe you do, if your family is into a little bit of perverted lunacy and low-level necrophilia. “Saltburn” is indeed a wild ride that’s cut from the same incestual cloth as “Cruel Intentions” and the swagger of “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” It might not always get its point across in healthy fashion, but what it’s able to provoke, especially on the backbone of lead stars Barry Keoghan and Jacob Elordi, is a tantalizing waltz of shock and filth that gets right up in your face (and features, perhaps, the best use of Flo Rida and T-Pain’s seminal banger “Low”). 

Fennel’s latest trappings follow Oliver Quick (Keoghan - in an excellent showcase for the Oscar nominee) at Oxford circa 2006. He’s there on scholarship, unlike the froth of wealthy elites who will someday become monarchs or queens, and doesn’t seem to really fit in with that crowd. Until he meets and begins secretly obsessing over Felix (Elordi - having a banner year following this and “Priscilla”) from afar. A chance encounter yields the start of a blossoming friendship where the two begin chumming it up at parties and various school gatherings. And before we know it or, as fate would have it, Oliver is extended an invitation to spend his summer at Saltburn, Felix’s lavish estate that, in another era, could’ve doubled as the Overlook in “The Shining.” 

Fennell frames the movie in a 1:33:1 matted aspect ratio to immerse the viewer in the wild eccentricities that exist at Saltburn manner. Including the parade of characters who all seem like they’re in different films but yet somehow all mesh together perfectly. There’s Felix’s promiscuous sister Venetia (Alison Oliver) who spends her days wandering and guzzling wine; Sir James (Richard E. Grant - having an absolute ball) the unhinged patriarch of the estate; and finally there’s Elspeth (Rosamund Pike) whose affinity for making condescending remarks is nothing short of comedic perfection and gives the “Gone Girl” actress her juiciest role in quite some time. 

But the movie belongs to Keoghan who’s commanding physique and towering presence glides “Saltburn” over the finish line as things go off the rails pretty quickly. Your feelings about the character are bound to ebb and flow throughout the picture as audiences try deciphering where this satire about the ultrarich is headed, but the fluidity with which Keoghan channels the sophisticated leading man charm of a young Matt Damon or the zany unpredictability of Dr. Frankfurter from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” is what gives Fennel’s comedy its teeth. 

Grade: B+ 

SALTBURN is now playing in theaters. 


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