REVIEW: Saltburn

The psychological thriller Saltburn seems to be social media’s new indie-film hyperfixation. The movie was brought to theaters in November of 2023, but the commotion surrounding the movie remains rampant. It was written and directed by Emerald Fennell, a skillful curator of dark comedy and playfully uncomfortable eroticism. The film’s controversial critical acclaim and its obsession with TikTok seemed enough of a reason to tune in. 

We are introduced to Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), an awkward and lonely young man attending Oxford College in 2006. He meets the luxurious Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi) and they hit it off as an unbalanced pair of friends in vastly separate social worlds. When Oliver mentions his father has passed, Felix empathetically invites him to spend the summer in his lavish family estate at Saltburn-by-the-Sea. 

Felix casually introduces his sumptuous summer home to Oliver, and an uncomfortable aura begins to sweep through the air. The story unfolds as Oliver is introduced to Felix’s highly affluent family: the lustrous Venetia (Alison Oliver), the disarmingly charming mother Elspeth (Rosamond Pike), cousin Farleigh (Archie Madekwe), and patriarch Sir James (Richard E. Grant).

Saltburn tackles obsession, excess, and the extremes of human desire. Some moments force you to recoil in the embarrassment and repulsion of the scene. Although, the true uneasiness that plagued the film was rather from its lack of self-definition. There were moments where it felt like three different movies: a queer young adult romance, an erotic horror flick, or a gripping family drama. Somehow it dabbled in all three universes, but never quite decided on one.  

The plot may have been less original than the articulately manufactured design, but the details will not leave you uninspired. Fennell nearly fetishizes these aspects of the house in interviews—and for good reason! There are dozens of minute features within the set, lighting, and architecture of the house that drag you alongside the cynical plot. 

Keoghan and Pike’s praised performances offered up two Golden Globe nominations. The family ensembled well against Oliver’s perceived naivety, but I felt these characters existed to embody an emotion or a “vibe” from Fennell—often their intentions seemed indirect and underdeveloped.

This movie was a visually stunning (magnificent cinematography by Linus Sandgren) reminder of the early 2000s with a deeply unsettling undertone of the evil within us all. It’s now up to you to decide if Fennell hit the mark by conveying erotic class warfare in a beautifully constructed mansion. Saltburn is available for a limited time in select theaters, and on Amazon Prime streaming. 

Jacob Elordi (left) and Barry Keoghan.


131 minutes. Rated R for intense themes, language, and drug use. 

Photos thanks to Charlotte Sometimes and The Seasonless.


Musicalsoup is a senior at SMTD who primarily reviews theatrical and musical performances in Ann Arbor. She is active in the student theater scene at UMichigan and enjoys the versatility of the performances she covers on art[seen]. Thanks for reading. :-)

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