Sexual desire can be a twisted thing, and Emerald Fennell isn’t afraid to show the dark side of lust and longing. In fact, she enjoys it with the kind of blood-stained smile one might expect from the mind behind the darkly comic revenge thriller. Promising young woman. (Her feature directorial debut earned her an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and a nomination for Best Director, which isn’t bad at all.) salty burn, The English writer-director takes aim with her sharp wit at the British upper class, the vaguely aristocratic, messily decadent, and pitifully snobbish sort of people who boast outrageous wealth and privilege along with an estate so vast it has its own name: Salt burn.
In Fennell’s long-awaited follow-up to Promising young woman, once again presents audiences with an antihero who uses sex and stereotypes as tools to achieve his darkest desires. Although some critics have crudely denounced salty burn as “The Talented Mr. Ripoff,” this comparison with Anthony Minghella’s 1999 film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel is as thin as the one that Anna Kendricks’s compares to. woman of the hour to Fennell’s provocative previous feature film. Perhaps the problem is that, in a cinematic landscape invaded by superhero movies and other children’s films, adult cinema is so rare that it surprises us and leads us to a clumsy comparison.
While salty burn has a familiar framework for classic tales of obsession and deception, Fennell’s love of bad fashion, hit songs, and the messy area where attraction meets repulsion offers audiences a thrill ride that is exceptionally heartbreaking, hilarious, and stimulating. Further, salty burn is a thriller that takes a confident approach to self-aware queer comedy.
That salty burn about?
Credit: MGM/Amazon Studios
The Banshees of Inisherin Oscar nominee Barry Keoghan plays Oliver Quick, a “scholarship case” who attended Oxford University in 2006 alongside fleets of the UK’s upper-class youth. While hard, tireless work got him there, his places were secured by legacy, family names, and piles of donations. While he looks painfully silly in glasses and a jacket, they look effortlessly cool in Juicy Couture sweatpants and eyebrow earrings.
Generation Z can bring back 2000s fashion No irony, but Fennell reminds us how incredibly uncool even the most modern attack of this era was. The sight gags range from the revelation of painfully regrettable fashion choices to Oliver standing in front of a comically large sun gate, not even knowing how to approach such an antiquated symbol of wealth and control. But while the cool kids may make us laugh in retrospect, Oliver longs to be with them. Or more specifically, he deeply desires to be with his king, the handsome but dim-witted Felix Catton (Euphoria‘s Jacob Elordi). Class conflicts aside, “Ollie” and Felix become fast friends, and as summer approaches, the latter invites his poor friend to join him on the family’s ridiculous estate.
Credit: MGM/Amazon Studios
The film’s gothic setting involves a scowling, adult Oliver looking back on this summer and warning his audience that people misunderstood his feelings for Felix. Throughout the film, this sinister voiceover will emerge, adding a bit of color (or shadow) while reminding us that this is all coming from the unreliable narration of a character as enigmatic as he is fascinating. Oliver becomes a figurative shapeshifter in the Catton household, adapting his personality to better appease whoever his audience is: the project, his crush, the student, the co-conspirator. But to what end?
salty burnThe supporting cast, from Rosamund Pike to Carey Mulligan, is terrific.
Credit: MGM/Amazon Studios
While the first act on the Oxford campus is full of cringe comedy of the social embarrassment variety, the second act at Saltburn itself is absolutely on fire with its searing satire of the so-called elite. Rosamund Pike, who won an Oscar for Girl is gone, delivers her funniest performance yet as mother Elspeth, who speaks of her concern for others, among some of the most scathing critiques ever put to film. (His withering speech from her of “She will anything “To get attention” may be the best punchline of the year.) With a broad smile and a cheerful tone, Pike welcomes the audience to Saltburn, then quickly attacks with a series of increasingly scandalous confessions, of which Oliver (and we) are an eager public. he’s electrifying in the gleeful cruelty of it, delivering the kind of lines drag queens would call “readings,” but with a British sheen that makes his edge all the more shocking.
Carey Mulligan Promising young womanThe Oscar-nominated leading lady reunites with Fennell to play a quirky friend of the Catton family. And while her appearance is brief, she is rife with comically flippant comments and ruthlessly funny reactions. Oscar nominee Richard E. Grant (Can you forgive me?) adds more flair as the family’s oblivious but occasionally brave patriarch. Alison Oliver (Conversations with friends) shines as Félix’s troubled little sister, while Elordi slyly plays Félix as nothing special beyond being attractive, young and rich. It’s not that she plays the role half-heartedly; rather, her shrugging interpretation is a condemnation of those poor, rich children who are guided not so much by charm but by privilege.
Archie Madekwe, as one of the Catton cousins always annoyed by rankings, is thrilling in his bullying of Oliver, believing himself to be a cat in the game when he’s just another jewel-encrusted mouse. And a shout out to Lolly Adefope, the English comedian who has astonished in ghosts and miracle workers; She has a small but biting role as a lady who rises above all this posh nonsense, especially her rich husband’s fool.
Barry Keoghan is a revelation in Salt burn.
Credit: MGM/Amazon Studios
The Irish actor has received widespread critical praise since his haunting performance in Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2017 cerebral thriller. The killing of a sacred deer. From there, he has been praised in challenging films such as Christopher Nolan’s war drama. Dunkirk, Bart Layton’s true crime docu-drama american animalsand the surreal fantasy of David Lowery The green knight. Her shameless performance at Chloé Zhao’s MCU entry Eternals spurred countless online crushes, while its heartbreaking turn in The Banshees of Inisherin made the Academy take notice. And now, with the world watching, Keoghan commits his entire body to a role that challenges you to look away.
While Oliver is salty burnAs narrator and protagonist, he is, however, a slippery figure. Keoghan’s piercing gaze focuses on Felix, and it’s difficult to gauge whether what Oliver feels is love, lust, jealousy, hate, or a heady mix of all of these and more. The role of Oliver is made up of masks, and Keoghan wears each one so convincingly that it’s an exciting game to guess which one is real. Are you referring to your cheerful appraisal of the house’s priceless works of art? The growl of pillow talk during a date night? The sweet invitation to friendship? The silent avalanche of gossip over cocktails?
Oliver speaks well no matter who he talks to, but Keoghan and Fennell know the truth about him lies in his actions. Sex is not a high allusion in Salt burn. The love scenes, or lust scenes, at least, play out with visceral pleasure. Fennell rejects shiny displays of perfect flesh and instead revels in sticky, slimy sweat, saliva, semen, and menstrual blood. Some in the audience at my screening gasped in surprise or screamed in dismay at these graphic depictions of sex, which range from kinky to taboo to innovatively shocking. Fennell’s film casts no judgment on any of the above, however, as it’s deeply tied to Oliver’s point of view, and he’s definitely not embarrassed. Keoghan expresses this in the confidence of his physicality in these sex scenes and beyond, until a climax that is kinetic, deliciously diabolical, and over-the-top. (Dare I predict that John Waters will love it?)
In the end, salty burn It’s unashamedly a R-rated movie, and thank goodness.
Fennell unleashes a torrid eat the rich satire that confronts the mixed feelings of the 99% about the 1%. In Oliver, we are given the vicarious thrill of being led into these precious, pompous spaces, taken on a tour of obscene consumerism dating back centuries, and led into the labyrinth of jealousy, wonder, and anger. We become complicit as we follow Oliver through his elaborate and ruthless scheme, and we are invited to join him in a victory lap that is as jarring as it is jubilant.
Simply put, salty burn She’s dynamite, full of lust, lies and laughter, the kind with a dark growl. If loving a movie so deliberately sleazy, audaciously wild, searing, and disturbingly sensational is wrong, then being right is boring.
salty burn releases in limited release on November 17, then opens nationwide on November 24.
UPDATE: November 16, 2023, 11:46 am EST Saltburn was reviewed outside of Fantastic Fest. The review has been republished for the film’s theatrical debut.