Saltburn | Movie Review

In order to give Emerald Ferrell’s latest movie a fair shake, one must first step back and let it all sink in.

“Saltburn,” in theaters Nov. 22, is part dark comedy, part seductive thriller, and part wicked, psychosexual-cringey-toxic case study.

Add in the lush scenery of Northamptonshire, the dark-richness of Oxford, and an eclectic soundtrack of songs like “Zadok the Priest,” “Mr. Brightside” and “Murder on the Dance Floor,” and you’ve got a multi-layered, British-flavored romp through an age-old story of revenge and rich vs. poor.

Shy, unassuming Oliver Quick (Barry Keoughan) arrives at Oxford as a somewhat outcast, tragic figure who has trouble making friends. Enter the dashing and absurdly wealthy Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi) who, we think by happenstance, whirls into Oliver’s orbit and eventually befriends the bespectacled sadsack.

Oliver is invited to spend the summer at Saltburn, the Catton family estate with its grand expanses of gardens, drawing rooms, and self-absorbed family members which include Felix’s childlike father Sir James (Richard E. Grant), unaware, yet hilariously rude mother Elspeth (the superb Rosamund Pike), and the lusty-yet-disturbed sister Venetia (Alison Oliver).

Snide and nasty cousin Farleigh (Archie Madekwe) and narcissistic house guest Pamela (Promising Young Woman’s Carey Mulligan in a scene-stealing cameo) gravitate in and out of the family dynamic as Oliver insinuates himself into each of their psyches and gradually reveals his true intentions to the audience.

Keoughan is at his best in this discomfiting and shuddersome role, expertly weaseling into each scene with the ease of a sociopath. Oliver’s turn as Venetia is tragic, unnerving and fantastic. Her bathtub monologue is one of the year’s best, and her alluring, cat-like presence in scenes with Keoughan are outstanding.

Proving he is more than just a pretty face, Elordi plays the god-like Felix with a surprising amount of depth and finesse. Madekwe chews the scenery in his role as Farleigh, as does Mulligan in her all-too-short cameo. However, the award for scene-stealing goes to Pike, who is so hilariously cruel and melodramatic in her role as Elspeth.

There are some rather shocking scenes that I’m not sure are necessary, yet I understand why they are included. Considering the depravity and debauchery of the filthy rich, plus the psychotic world of Oliver, we as the audience are subjected to these scenes that will make many look away, gasp or laugh uncomfortably.

Some will not care for the picture, yet those who look at it with a wider scope will appreciate what the film tries to achieve, which isn’t always clear. It’s one of those films that has to sink in; one that a critic can’t easily evaluate. I felt that it was well done, overall, with some parts a little muddled and uncertain.

Given the performances and the glossy, glamorous package, I’d recommend it to folks who don’t mind a few shocking moments and cerebral stories.

Go see it, but proceed with caution.

My grade: B- …just because some scenes are just a little too gross for my movie palette.

“Saltburn” arrives in theaters Nov. 22 and is rated R for strong sexual content, drug use, coarse language and disturbing violence. Running time is 127 minutes.

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Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.
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