‘Saltburn’ review: A promising young man takes a sordid turn | ET REALITY


“Saltburn” is the kind of embarrassment you’ll endure for 75 minutes. But not for 127. It’s too desperate, too confusing, too satisfied with its little surprises to irritate anything you recognize as genuine emotion. This thing was written and directed by Emerald Fennell, whose previous film was “Promising Young Woman,” a rape horror movie that was also a revenge comedy. So trust me: she wants you to be angry. Fennell has seen the erotic thrillers, studied her Hitchcock, and possibly read her Patricia Highsmith, and understands that if you name your main character Oliver Quick, he’s obligated to do something at least possibly Dickensian. The question here, amid all the lying, laziness, and (eventually, inevitably) death, is to what end?

We go back to 2006, where two boys from Oxford, the studious Oliver (Barry Keoghan) and the libertine Felix (Jacob Elordi), forge one of those obsessive and unbalanced friendships that one of them mistakes for love and the other tolerates because he is more needy. what it seems like. It goes south or sideways or into outer space but also nowhere. Well, that’s not entirely accurate, since he also goes, for one summer, to Saltburn, the Felix family estate, an expanse of lawn boasting a baroque mansion with stratospheric ceilings, a cantilevered staircase, copious portraits, a Bernard Palissy ceramic dish collection and one of those garden labyrinths where the characters get lost along with the plots.

These two meet for real when Oliver lends Felix his bike, a moment Oliver has been waiting for. The film’s best scenes occur during this stretch of Oxford when Oliver experiences Felix as an intoxicant, and Felix’s prepster circle experiences Oliver as an irritant. There’s some creak, dreaminess, and post-adolescent instability here. Identities are being forged. It’s been better elsewhere: John Hughes, “Heathers,” Hogwarts, Elordi’s HBO show, “Euphoria.” But Fennell puts some passable hunger, cruelty, and tenderness into these moments. When Oliver tells Felix that his father has just died, Felix extends his invitation to Saltburn out of sincere compassion.

Now, what happens during the course of this visit is equivalent to a different movie, or maybe three. Lust and envy take over you. As does Fennell’s tedious, crude attempt to address psychopathology. Felix comes from one of those rigid, pathologically indifferent clans where “tight” counts as an emotion. Everyone in Saltburn seems to be ready for a new toy. And Oliver’s straight-A student impulses make ingratiation a sport. His erudition, availability, and blue eyes impress Felix’s amusing mother, Elspeth (Rosamund Pike); her mere arrival awakens Felix’s timid zombie sister, Venetia (Alison Oliver). In another film, his enthusiasm for this newcomer would make you sad for Farleigh (Archie Madekwe), a schoolmate and old friend of Felix’s who is already on the premises, practically a member of the family and flatulent in demeanor when Oliver shows up. . He is the only non-white main character in “Saltburn,” a fact the film considers making something intriguing but abandons. His eyebrows are chronically up to something. Is Farleigh worried about losing a financial lifeline? Is he jealous that Oliver might consummate things with Felix before him?

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