Saltburn, Emerald Fennell's follow-up to her Oscar-nominated Promising Young Woman, oozes with atmosphere. Dripping with Millenial lost Summer vibes, the film is an entertaining, stylish, and wild ride into The Talented Mr. Ripley territory. Fennell knows how to craft a memorable moment and Saltburn has many. However, much like her debut, the film's themes get lost in the pursuit of shock. At the center of the film are two fantastic performances from Barry Keoghan and Jacob Elordi.
Keoghan plays Oliver Quick, a misfit student at Oxford who has no place there. When he gets taken under the wing of the wealthy Felix Catton (Elordi), he ends up at a manor in the English countryside for an unforgettable summer. Fennell makes the most of the location, offering up images of young bodies bathing in the sun like something out of an Abercrombie & Fitch ad. But Fennell quickly curdles things as we learn Oliver is a stranger cat than we first realize. He seems obsessed with Felix and his family.
The Cattons are an equally odd bunch. Elspeth, the matriarch, is wonderfully played by Rosamund Pike. She gets many of the film's best laughs thanks to a droll delivery. Richard E. Grant is fun as the clueless Sir James. Alison Oliver plays Felix's horny sister who begins to draw Oliver into her web. Archie Madekwe gives a memorable performance as Farleigh, Felix's outsider cousin due to his race. The whole family is full of secrets and soon Oliver is telling each of them exactly what they want to hear. Who is seducing who?
The film's pacing is a little off. It feels like the first act drags on longer than needed but once the film's plot really kicks into gear, Saltburn is a trip. Inventive sex scenes, a gross-out moment with a bathtub and a trippy party are all highlights. As are Elordi and Koeghan who have incredible chemistry.
As fun as Saltburn is from moment to moment, the film doesn't amount to much. Fennell's insights into the haves and have-nots aren't particularly well articulated. After the film ends, it becomes hard to see what the point is. However, the film still has enough verve and panache to make for a memorable time at the movies.