I love that Emerald Fennell movies exist. Here at the Telluride Film Festival, Saltburn revealed itself in all of its audacious glory. After the genius of Promising Young Woman, anything was possible for her next flick. Well, I’m here to tell you that this is one of the year’s best films so far. It’s edgy, exquisite, rowdy, sexy, and goes there. Trust me, it goes there. Wow.
Saltburn is not just showcasing more of Fennell’s immense talents, but it also shows off just how amazing Barry Keoghan continues to be. He’s at his best here, too, doing work you’ve never seen from him before. Fennell and Keoghan are at the heights of their respective powers, combining to make something truly enrapturing.
Oliver Quick (Keoghan) has come to Oxford University and immediately struggles to fit in. A scholarship student, he’s an outsider to the wealthy elite. Whereas Oliver is a bit of an outcast, someone like his charming and aristocratic classmate Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi) is beloved. Oliver is immediately intrigued by the popular Felix, managing to befriend him after their paths cross and he helps him out of a jam. While Felix’s family friend Farleigh (Archie Madekwe) doesn’t take to Oliver, he sure does. In fact, he invites him to spend the summer at his family’s massive estate, which sets the movie into motion.
Arriving at Saltburn, Oliver is welcomed by Felix’s parents (Richard E. Grant and Rosamund Pike), eyed by his sister Venetia (Alison Oliver), and leered at by Farleigh. The Catton family also has the matriarch’s down on her luck friend (Carey Mulligan) staying for a bit. Learning the rhythms of the family and the mansion, Oliver settles in. Then, he begins manipulating all of the fellow residents of Saltburn. By the end of the summer, we’ll understand what he’s up to, but watching it all unfold is a devilish delight.
Barry Keoghan blew me away here. His eye acting, as well as the way he evolves the character, is just hypnotic. You’re never quite sure what he’ll do next and Keoghan keeps you guessing throughout Saltburn. Fennell wrote him a hell of a character and he absolutely runs with it. Rosamund Pike is also excellent, doing a lot with a smaller role. Richard E. Grant is very funny, as is Carey Mulligan in an extended cameo. Jacob Elordi has, in some ways, the least showy of the roles, but his charisma really does stand out. Archie Madekwe and Alison Oliver are strong as well, making for a great ensemble. Rounding out the cast is Paul Rhys, among others.
Emerald Fennell is an incredibly brave filmmaker, pulling no punches with this flick. Her writing is just as sharp as in Promising Young Woman, which won her an Oscar, while her direction is far more ambitious. Along with luscious cinematography from Linus Sandgren, Fennell has beauty and filth in equal measure on display. There are several sequences you’ll have to see in order to believe. Your jaw will drop, not just in shock, but admiration as well.
Saltburn is audacious and exquisite. It may also be destined to be divisive, but if this Telluride debut is any indication, the passion will be there. I loved it and was here for every big swing that it took. All hail Emerald Fennell!