Promising Young Woman director’s great second film



Starring Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi and Alison Oliver



The new psychological thriller from Promising Young Woman director Emerald Fennell, Saltburn may be one of the best-looking and best-written films of the year.

Oliver (Barry Keoghan), a solitary Oxford student, is invited by his aristocratic new friend Felix (Jacob Elordi) to stay at his country estate, but Oliver has no idea of the bizarre, sordid time in store for him.

Keoghan is an engaging fish-out-of-water as Oliver, a nerdy, withdrawn young man who gradually comes out of his shell. Elordi is kind and effortlessly alluring as Felix, with the camera celebrating the male body in a way you rarely see in mainstream cinema, and Felix’s family (helmed by Richard E. Grant and Rosamund Pike) are welcoming hosts with a subtle, unnerving note of strangeness.

The cinematography juxtaposes beautiful, painterly wide shots (plus several well-executed one-takes) with intimate, uncomfortably close face shots for dialogue, highlighting the personal conflicts amid the vanity and opulence.

Saltburn has a superb three-act structure: the film establishes the Saltburn estate and its key players, then challenges our assumptions as Oliver’s experience begins to sour, building to a brilliant string of shocks and subversion. I can’t discuss the narrative in depth without giving too much away, but the later plot gives you the grim satisfaction of all the little clues and dastardly pieces coming together.

On the surface, Saltburn feels almost like Midsommar for boys, as both films feature a lonely, unfulfilled protagonist flourishing in a dark new environment steeped in custom and ritual (this reading is rather ironic, given that the very feminist Midsommar is directed by a man and the often homoerotic Saltburn is directed by a woman).

Intriguing, hedonistic high art and a great second feature for Emerald Fennell, Saltburn is playing in most Victorian cinemas.

– Seth Lukas Hynes