source: MGM Amazon Studios

What on earth was SALTBURN? – a short critique

It’s everywhere, lingering behind every scroll: It’s murder on the dance floor, you’d better not kill the groove DJ, gonna burn this goddamn house right down! It’s Oscar-winner Emerald Fennell’s (Promising Young Woman) latest directing project, that has caused this new wave of content to sweep over everyone’s socials. Of course, I’m talking about SALTBURN! The name of the amazon prime production is already so catchy, it’s the only thing I knew about SALTBURN when I decided to watch it on my train ride home for Christmas. Those who have already seen the movie will now shake their heads at this tragic decision, just like the people in the row behind me were shaking their heads at the tragic visuals on my screen.

SALTBURN is a comedy psychological thriller, that should not be watched in public or with your parents(!). Oliver meets Felix during their studies in Oxford and gets invited to Felix’s family estate, Saltburn, over the summer. The heartwarming coming-of-age-esque storyline turns sour as Felix’s family experiences a series of horrifying events and tragic losses. Although it is classified as a thriller and some scenes do catch you off guard, SALTBURN is more a fun watch, than a scary ride.

In typical thriller fashion, the movie features some twisted timelines. Speckled between the unfurling storyline are scenes of Oliver, smoking and giving his commentary on the tragedy. SALTBURN opens with such a scene, Oliver lighting the cigarette and remembering: “I wasn’t in love with him. I know everyone thought I was, but I wasn’t. I loved him, of course. It was impossible not to love Felix.” And he was so right with that, the last part at least.

In the time jump that follows, Jacob Elordi masters his role of the adored so well, you can’t help but be enamored by Felix’s persona. In perfect harmony, Barry Keoghan’s performance as the adorer was spotless too. Well, spotless is inaccurate, as his adoration is revealed to be tainted in the course of the movie. Throughout SALTBURN, the tension between Oliver and Felix is so palpable, it makes you giddily excited for a kiss. In hindsight, I do regret hoping for sexual interaction between the two so strongly, because the scenes we do get are obscene. They heavily reminded me of the peach scene in “Call me by your name”.

Yet, the sexual scenes are what caused SALTBURN to blow up on social media. Whilst one might argue they are far too vulgar, I found them to perfectly fit the story and the character’s relationships. Watching Oliver drink Felix’s bathwater and lick the drain clean just makes sense and adds the right amount of unhinged absurdity to this movie. Emerald Fennell has managed to give SALTBURN a thoroughness and authenticity that I find myself finding less and less of in newer movies.

SALTBURN stuns you with its beautiful aesthetics, the incredible symbolism and the giant heap of audacity that is Oliver. At some times it is like a car crash, you can’t look away from. Not only does it immerse you as a viewer in Felix and Oliver’s relationship, but it also puts forward questions of class, race and gender in its own chaotic way. SALTBURN does not bring this big overarching metaphor, some art is not meant to be understood fully. If you want a thought-provoking, society-changing statement piece, SALTBURN is not that. SALTBURN is a lot at the same time as it is not being anything at all. It just is, and I loved it for being that.

Photo source: MGM Amazon Studios