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.

REVIEW: Cocaine Bear

To be completely honest, I was rather disappointed after watching this movie. Perhaps it was because my friends hyped it up so much or the comedy just wasn’t to my taste, but it had too many plotholes for it to be satirically viable. Having a comedy movie be understandable is a personal preference though, so I’m sure a lot of people didn’t mind that. There were certain scenes that I found funny since they caught me off guard (I won’t elaborate much to avoid spoilers), but most of the time I got upset about the character development and storytelling.

They use gore and of course, the consumption of cocaine, as their comedic selling point, so if you’re easily squeamish or not interested in that I don’t recommend this movie. Well, I don’t recommend it in general. There are also lots of jump scares, so beware if you’re startled easily! If I had to rate it on a scale of 1-10, I’d give it a 4.5; that may be a controversial statement though.

I did end up watching this movie twice to show others how ridiculous it is; I guess watching this with others could be a good bonding experience! The second time around I could understand more of what was going on. Many of the characters have Southern accents and there are a lot of characters in general that become hard to keep track of, so if you can watch it with subtitles it’d be super helpful.

To summarize, I don’t think this film was a must-watch.

PSA: I had mistakenly thought and questioned how much of the film was true but none of it is, which may have played a factor in my disappointment. Now that you know what you’re getting yourself into, give the movie a shot! Or don’t, it’s up to you.

PREVIEW: Cocaine Bear

Cocaine Bear is a film notorious for its origin: the true story of a bear having found and eaten cocaine. I personally don’t know much about the movie or how much of it is based on true events, but my friends have been very excited to watch it for its goofy nature.

The genre of Cocaine Bear is thriller and comedy, and it’s a relatively short movie (or at least what I felt was short: 95 minutes). I tend to stay away from both of these genres because I don’t have the confidence to watch thriller movies and lack interest in watching comedies (in theaters at least), so I’m curious about how I’ll feel about this film in terms of quality, history, and personality.

The movie is soon to stop showing, so either check it out yourself or wait to see if it’s worth based on others’ or my review!

REVIEW: Fight Club

On yet another numbingly cold night in Ann Arbor, the Michigan Theatre stood dazzlingly bright amongst the empty streets, promising warmth and the excitement of another cult classic in its Late Nights at the Michigan series. If you have a pulse and live in America, you either know about Fight Club or you’ve seen it. Regarded as David Fincher’s directorial masterpiece, or at least undeniably his most popular film, the 1999 dramatic thriller offers everything that other films don’t: a seemingly insane and ripped Brad Pitt, a smoker who attends meetings for cancer patients, and a plot twist that leaves you analyzing every scene of the film for days on end. The plot can’t be explained without ruining the fun, but be aware that every scene packs a punch and leaves you breathless.

Also revered for Gone Girl and The Social Network, David Fincher’s distinct style is what makes Fight Club a masterpiece. Sharp monologues and witty dialogue inject life into the characters, somehow sculpting believable people that are so bizarre and morally corrupt that the concept of hero versus villain goes out the window. Once you become fully invested in the unpredictable lives of these troubled people, Fincher draws you in with clever shots and action sequences, balancing bloody fists with genius cinematography and a bold anti-capitalist war cry. The plot never stays in one place, constantly escalating and spinning, but the ride is exhilarating and somewhat relieved by clever deadpan humor. Each shot is a stunning puzzle that offers perfectly placed hints.  Fight Club is a total psychological riddle garnished with tasteful edginess and outright fury— a dangerous recipe that Fincher does best.

My admiration grows with each movie screening I attend at the Michigan Theatre. Historic and timelessly elegant, the theatre somehow still feels cozy, offering a sense of community through the collective anticipation that all moviegoers feel. There is something especially magical about an energized group experience in the midst of a lonesome pandemic. Throngs of students chatting and munching popcorn on a weekend night is an almost forgotten spectacle. The Michigan Theatre’s elaborate COVID-19 precautions ensure that the experience is free of anxiety, allowing a couple of hours of carefree escapism into a world untainted by COVID numbers and homework deadlines. If you find yourself longing for a temporary vacation from the burdens of college life, or you’re noticing that your Friday nights could use more excitement, check out the Late Nights at the Michigan series. Upcoming screenings include Princess Mononoke, Star Wars: Episode II, and The Princess Bride. Student tickets are only $8.50, so get them while you can!

REVIEW: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

I always try to go into movies (and, well, most other events in my life) completely blind–I hate to watch trailers or read plots; just knowing basic facts ahead of time, like which actors are in the cast, upsets me. This has become a self-enforced law in virtually all areas of my life. So it wasn’t until a few minutes in that I realized that Colin Farrell, the very man who enchanted me in The Lobster played a main character (I found out later that the director was also the same in both movies). Exactly what I didn’t want to happen happened then: based on this new knowledge gained early in the movie, I began forming expectations. When I first watched The Lobster last year, alone in my dorm room in early spring just before the sun went down, I was floored. After it ended, I walked outside and hung onto a stop sign to keep from blowing away, though the air was still.

The result of comparisons like these is almost always disappointment. To regard a piece only as a continuation of a body of work, rather than its own autonomous thing which works in cooperation with itself, is a mistake that typically cannot be undone. This is probably why I didn’t exit my house at the end to clutch at a telephone pole or something. In fact, I forgot how it made me feel almost directly after, which is completely different from my relationship with other movies. 

Still, at some parts I was taken back to the old feeling, that sick gut high-pitched thing stuck somewhere in a nasal or orbital cavity when your mind bends a little painfully. I got this towards the end, as the children begin competing to be spared. Nothing else was starkly shocking in the same way. Not when Steven forces donuts down his son’s throat, or Anna flatly suggests it’s only rational to kill one of the children. When nothing really strikes, there is nothing to grab onto, nothing that connects us to the story.

Nicole Kidman, despite her brilliance in drama, was out of place in this movie. She thrives in hard-hitting, emotional film, not parts where she needs to seem totally unfeeling. Similarly, the presence of Alicia Silverstone got my goat at first, until I separated her from her Clueless days: as she’s grown up, her glazed-eye stare has shifted from strangely flirtatious boredom to something closer to slightly-conscious paralysis. The way her face moves can be disconcerting, bringing about an inexplicable sense of panic in my chest. And all three of the kids were perfect for this kind of acting, as all children are.

It was also clear the crew put thought into how they played with lighting. Much of the time, scenes were engulfed in golden light, sometimes artificial, but warm all the same. Maybe it was just the presence of Kidman, but it gave me some Eyes Wide Shut sensations. Rather than acting as a contrast to the coldness of the characters, it invited me into readily accepting the social norms of the world Lanthimos creates.

The movie wasn’t bad, but it was forgettable. Instead of still thinking of the questions it raises (it is morally wrong to have a favorite child? Who is most responsible in medical malpractice situations? What kinds of guilt can we handle, and how much?), I’m just flashing back to Martin messily eating spaghetti with a white shirt on. Unfortunate, maybe, but it’s the truth.


REVIEW: It Comes At Night

Why is legitimate talent wasted on awful screenplays?

Chuckling a little to myself, I chose thriller about a mysterious disease that forced families to isolate themselves from outsiders. I figured I’d finally be on the edge of my seat after weeks of watching painfully monotonous news coverage of minutely different facets of the same story. Turns out I was in for the same kind of boredom I had grown accustomed to in the past couple of months.

Horror movies (and increasingly, even the most confidently-labeled “cerebral” thrillers) have long been a genre that works with the same materials to build a plot. They use the same monsters, the same dialogue, the same archetypal characters. It is so dreadfully rare to find a horror movie that doesn’t settle for mining the same types of basic fears assumed to be common to all human beings. Sure, writers could start there for some aspects of their work, but all too often they also refuse to go further.  The next time I see another humanoid, tall, skinny shadowy figure drooling black goo from its mouth in a movie, I’m going to lose it, and not in the intended way. 

So anyways, this movie is about a family lucky enough to own property a long ways from the densely-populated city during a mass infection event of some mysterious disease. Already, the lack of context bugged me: where in the sam hill is this house located? Who is this family? What is this disease? How long has it been around? What has its global impact been? I kept waiting for the first rule of science fiction to be honored (a logical explanation of the way the world works in the story), but it never was. While some might argue that the vagueness adds to the scariness of the disease, to me it’s an excuse for lazy writing. There is such little substance in the world building the writers do that it distracts from whatever level of terror I’m supposed to be feeling, and replaces it with annoyance.

Though I shouldn’t have been surprised by the outdated, patriarchal family structure in the movie, I was. The dichotomy between femininity and masculinity was incredibly strong; it was made abundantly clear that the men were protectors, women were caregivers (and meant to be protected), and that these strict roles should be considered ideals. Men made decisions, and women made comments that could easily be dismissed. This is terribly common in horror, pulling on the legacy of the old days of female victimhood (King Kong, Creature From the Black Lagoon, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera). I’d thought we’d made it a little further past that. It’s almost like we need more female horror screenwriters. 

Going into the horror/thriller genre should not be a shortcut into movie making for unimaginative writers. There are some who are raising the standards, like Ari Aster (Midsommer), Julia Ducournau (Raw), and Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, Dogtooth), but it isn’t enough yet to discourage the countless carbon copies of a basic slasher flick. Still, the future looks bright.