‘Saltburn’ London Film Festival 2023 Review: A Devilishly Addictive Little Surprise

In Saltburn, Emerald Fennell’s follow-up film to the polarizing Promising Young Woman, Oliver Quick is not fitting into Oxford University the way he had hoped. When he finds himself invited to sit at the cool kid’s table, literally, he soon befriends Felix Catton. Felix invites him to his family’s estate, Saltburn, for the summer after Oliver suffers a family tragedy. As Oliver begins to find his footing in this wealthy family’s dynamics, things begin to take unexpected turns. 

Most of us saw the photos of Jacob Elordi living his best life on set and assumed this might be a film about class and privilege. We also heard the whispers that it might be a queer psychosexual thriller. It does not beat either of those allegations, but there’s also more to it than that. Like the characters it introduces to us, Saltburn is way more than meets the eye. The movie is like a kaleidoscope; the view is ever-changing, and nearly impossible to look away from.

Oliver (Barry Keoghan) admits that he loves Felix (Elordi) early in the movie. We see them form a strange but familiar friendship. For quite a bit of the film, it feels like an exploration of those relationships we forged with people in our youth when we found ourselves in new environments. Most of us have had those buddies that, looking back, we’re not sure if we wanted to be them or be with them. Here is where the relatability ends as we soon start to realize Oliver may have an unhealthy obsession with Felix. What seemingly begins as Oliver ingratiating himself into the family becomes very dark and twisted. 

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Saltburn boasts some stellar performances from an ensemble to die for. Rosamund Pike, Richard E. Grant, Alison Oliver, and Archie Madekwe are clear standouts. As shit hits the fan, we realize we like, and maybe even care for, these messy characters they’ve gifted us. This is in part because no actor was wasted in this film. From the butler with few lines to Carey Mulligan, who manages to steal all of her scenes, everyone is game, and everybody has a throughline. This is, unfortunately, becoming a rarity these days as more movies cast big names and forget to give them anything to do.

However, this film unsurprisingly belongs to Barry Keoghan. While he’s always managed to steal focus in whatever project he touches (looking at The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Batman, and The Banshees of Inisherin), this sees him step into a leading role as easily as most of us slide on our favorite pair of sandals. As our entryway into this messy world, he’s tasked with keeping the mysteries afloat, being relatable, and guiding us past what’s in plain sight until it’s time for us to notice it. I predict we’ll be hearing his name this award season, and he deserves it and then some. 

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I enjoyed Emerald Fennell’s season of Killing Eve, and I liked Promising Young Woman. So, I am familiar with her work, but also figured three solid projects in a row in this economy is unheard of. However, she has managed to surpass herself as a writer-director here. While neither of her credits I mentioned earlier seem to care about being mainstream, this one drives home that she’s having fun telling the stories she wants to tell. Her dark sense of humor is still on display in Saltburn, make no mistake—this is a very Fennell film. However, it also feels like the filmmaker has gotten comfortable subverting expectations and directing traffic from her genre-agnostic perch. I love to see it. 

While most people will understandably be stuck on how beautifully shot this movie is, I also appreciated the soundtrack. The film takes place in 2006, and every needle drop made me feel old but also made me want to dig out my CD collection. The songs selected are as decadent as anything else the movie feeds us. The ones I jotted down were The Killer’s “Mr. Brightside”, MGMT’s “Time To Pretend”, and the ultimate needle drop of Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s “Murder On A Dance Floor”. All of which are cheekier in hindsight than they were during the screening.

I can almost hear the essays about this decadent world filled with desire full of lavish scenery being typed as I try to process the ride I just went on with this film. The film is charming but cold. It’s funny, but also hard to look at. It’s delicate and violent. Saltburn lives in a league of its own. It’s a joy and an honor to see satire done well again. 

  • Saltburn


Emerald Fennell has crafted an absurdly funny, dangerous, seductive world where everyone is more than they seem. ‘Saltburn’ is everything we assumed it would be but also somehow more than we ever could’ve dreamed. It defies expectations and refuses to settle for a simple indictment of the rich because that would be too easy.



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