Oscar winner Emerald Fennell’s follow up to Promising Young Woman stars Barry Keoghan as Oliver, a young man from a troubled background who gains a scholarship to Oxford.
Feeling out of place, he falls in with popular student Felix (Jacob Elordi), who invites him to his lavish family estate for the summer. It’s beyond Oliver’s wildest dreams, until dark secrets threaten to consume everyone involved.
After the bold and vitriolic debut, it’s perhaps inevitable that Saltburn should be something of a letdown. It’s missing the fire of that film, as well as the clear target.
Class is certainly an issue here, but it’s unclear who Fennell (herself an Oxford graduate) wants the audience to side with, or if it’s simply a rollercoaster of bad people up to no good. Technically, she has lost none of her edge, building the tension to almost unbearable levels before a burst of chaos that leaves you gasping for air. It also looks amazing, with the camera using the gorgeous rooms filled with gorgeous people as a horrifying counter to what’s happening in secret.
This is the first time Keoghan has been the true lead of a film since his breakthrough in the mid-2010s, but he doesn’t shift too far from what we’ve seen before. The talented Irish Oscar nominee has made a career of characters who stare pointedly, concealing an awful truth, and it’s not hard for him to show Oliver to be more than meets the eye. Rosamund Pike steals the show as Felix’s mother, with an acerbic performance reminiscent of her film I Care A Lot.
Saltburn is neither a triumph nor catastrophe, which is often the case with directors making their sophomore efforts after exploding onto the scene. However, it is compelling enough to remain optimistic about one of Britain’s brightest filmmaking voices.