The BFI London Film Festival officially kicked off with the premiere of Emerald Fennell’s second feature film Saltburn. Following up her 2020 hit Promising Young Woman, which drew acclaim for its biting social commentary told through the lens of a comedic revenge thriller, earning it an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Any subsequent film would naturally have eyes on it and that it certainly did with the queue going out of the cinema, down the street and round the corner.
Wit and satire
I am incredibly pleased to report that the spark burning at the heart of Promising Young Woman lives on in the raging fire, wit and satire of Saltburn. A critical exploration of class and wealth told through characters who you’d in your right mind try to avoid down the pub.
It follows Oliver Quick played by Barry Keoghan, who gets sucked into the lavish world of the Upper Class by a fellow Oxford University student played by Jacob Elordi who offers him to stay at his family estate over the Summer Holidays. There we meet familiar faces and a stand-out performance from Rosamund Pike who makes even the smallest of lines devilishly hilarious as primarily, more than a thriller or drama, this is a dark comedy. Naturally, it is best served to see with an audience, be that a packed cinema laughing along or shouting at the screen with friends and family. Not only for the shared laughs, but also the shared gasps.
‘Don’t get lost’
Even after the tagline emphasises ‘Don’t get lost’, the film guides you with a welcoming hand, and after it’s too late, you realise where you are.
As a thriller, it maintains constant tension throughout, but it’s only towards the end it begins to earn those stripes. As an avid horror film fan, it takes a lot to shock me, here, that is done incredibly effectively. Without gore or ‘cheap tricks’ it shows you images you will want to rinse out of your brain, but will not be able to stop thinking about. One shot in particular is burned into my retinas. However, some of the messaging and themes do become unclear at times. The longer the film progresses the more it seems to ‘undo’ the satire it seemingly strived for.
Sharp and witty
The main constants are the stellar cast and sharp, witty dialogue thus (sorry Farleigh) adding to the particular uneasy tightrope atmosphere. After the two-hour runtime, I was desperate to come up for air, but also wanted to keep my head under the water and bask in Saltburn for as long as I could, because despite the warnings I got lost… and so will you.
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