This film has visually sumptuous settings, excellent cinematography, a stunning cast, and clearly had an extravagant budget – much of which is seemingly now being spent on marketing trying to convince film goers that the aforementioned all amounted to something. It did not.
For all the technical merit, impressive names and hype, Saltburn is surprisingly lack lustre. Emerald Fennell’s follow up Promising Young Woman, is filled with interesting ideas, but they are all undercooked and incongruous and never really coalesce.
The plot centres on the young, brilliant misfit, Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) who comes from a modest family but manages to win a scholarship to Oxford University. There, he fixates upon and ingratiates himself with the wealthy and impossibly handsome Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi).
In an exposition that takes way too long, we watch Oliver worm his way into the socially elite world of Felix and his friends while constantly fending off bitchy barbs from Felix’s racially-mixed, ostentatiously camp cousin, Farleigh (Archie Madekwe).
Through various machinations, Oliver gets himself invited to spend the summer break at Saltburn, the massive estate in which Felix and his noble family reside.
Saltburn is a majestic, historic mansion filled with priceless antiques, servants in uniform, and a stale air of civility.
Its inhabitants are: Elspbeth (Rosamund Pike), Felix’s unworldly, conservative mother; Sir James (Richard E. Grant), Felix’s eccentric father; Venetia (Alison Oliver), Felix’s horny, flirtatious sister; Pamela (Carey Mulligan) a family friend who has overstayed her welcome; Farleigh, Felix, and the rather stereotypically condescending butler, Duncan (Paul Rhys).
It’s here that the erotic, unholy, mind-twisting events hinted at in the trailer take place. The problem is, the hints are exaggerated. Yes, there is kookyness, bizarre sexual activities, lots of suggestiveness, but they all feel forced and incoherent.
The film never gains momentum and the extremity of its last act does not feel earned. Comparisons, in terms of plot and tone, have been made to Brideshead Revisited, The Talented Mr Ripley, and possibly even The Go-Between, but those films far exceed Saltburn in the quality and intelligence of their respective scripts.
Saltburn is ultimately self-indulgent and limp, with a good cast wasted and its potential squandered.