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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Reel Thoughts: ‘Saltburn’ delivers shock, style amongst aristocratic debauchery

Illustration by June Woo
Barry Keoghan, Alison Oliver and Rosamund Pike star in Oscar winner Emerald Fennell’s deliciously eerie new film “Saltburn.”

Emerald Fennell’s latest film “Saltburn” is a squeamish showcase in all things excess, obsession and murder.

“Saltburn” premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival on Thursday and will open in theaters on Nov. 22 in the U.S. The psychological thriller marks the Oscar winner’s second project and comes three years after the release of her Oscar-winning debut, “Promising Young Woman.”

“Saltburn” follows University of Oxford first-years Oliver Quick (Oscar nominee Barry Keoghan) and Felix Catton (“Euphoria” actor Jacob Elordi) deepening friendship during a summer spent at Catton’s country estate — Saltburn.

From the start, Catton’s aristocratic privilege and manner stands in opposition to Quick’s haunted demeanor. The two leads establish a symbiotic relationship that grows increasingly complex throughout the film.

In the film, Fennell — an Oxford graduate herself — skilfully demonstrates the origins of desire for the things and people we can’t have. She delivers this exploration with a sleek panache that avoids soppiness.

The psychological thriller is unafraid to take risks in its exploration of this theme. I’d never heard so many gasps as I did at the screening in Chicago’s Music Box Theatre on Thursday.

Fennell’s characters feel pushed to extremes as mirrors to our own worst faults. Catton is particularly contradictory.

Despite Catton’s consistent insensitivity, he remains likable, Fennell said at a post-screening presser. She described the audience as oddly forgiving of his misogynistic and callow behavior, ascribing this to his beauty and charm.

During a tour of the estate, Catton disdainfully refers to the artworks his family has collected as “some f—ing hideous Rubens.” I’m not denying some art historians might take that position, but the characters seem almost campy in their extreme privilege.

Fennell examines how the human psyche responds to having an obscene amount of resources. Woven into these character studies are elements of dark comedy and Gothic romance.

Fennell said she used levity as a way to soften the delivery of some of her most shocking material: “Comedy is where I’m most comfortable talking about difficult things.”

The film also meticulously worked in early aughts stylistic choices. One montage in the film set to MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” gives off 2000s Tumblr energy with its lens flares and array of bejeweled outfits. The film’s set eventually goes from sleek to rotten, and we end up with a Tumblr moodboard from hell.

“Saltburn” isn’t a cozy movie. It won’t be played on repeat during the holidays like “Love Actually” or “Paddington.” But, it’s a movie that keeps you mulling over the plot long after you’ve left the theater.

“Saltburn” is a delicious film with all its glam and gore. No matter how much you might be tempted to look away, it holds your gaze and refuses to let go.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @gracejw215

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