MGM and Amazon Studios

SALTBURN GOES down a treat. Writer-director Emerald Fennell, who won an Oscar for her debut Promising Young Woman, is two-for-two on stylish, moody films that entertain (even if they do not hang together).

In her second, which premieres today at London Film Festival, Oliver Quick (played by Barry Keoghan, mostly sans Irish accent) is an outsider in his first year at the University of Oxford. It’s here, among the well-heeled student body, he meets the aristocratic Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi) and falls in fast not only with him but his entire family: waspish mother Elspeth (Rosamund Pike, who else?), distant sister Venetia (Alison Oliver) and even more distant father James (Richard E. Grant). Over a summer at the family’s estate, Saltburn, Oliver learns some harsh truths (aren’t they always!) about the upper classes. And now, it is our time to provide some truths about Saltburn, without any harsh spoilers.

Jacob Elordi is a perfect posho

Upper class is one of the easier English accents to master – posh people sound ridiculous to begin with – and yet, many have failed. Happily, Elordi, erstwhile street-style daredevil and Euphoria hunk, nails the delicate vowels and occasional hard edge. What is really sublime about the Australian actor is his entire performance as Felix, from body language to boyish charm: cutting through college with the care-free elan of an aristocratic student who could have any girl he wished. It’s a playboy Sebastian Flyte with a punk edge (he has an eyebrow piercing!). He looks like every Hooray Henry you’ve ever seen across the dance floor or sat with at the pub, and thought, What goes on inside your silly, beautiful, monied head?

The 2000s are so back

Did the trailer’s use of Bloc Party’s “Pioneers” awaken something within your soul? Perhaps you are a 20-something who left their heart on the dancefloor and still make Spotify playlists which feature music released no later than 2007. Great news for you: Saltburn is packed with enough 2000s hits that will make the average Brit weep into the raggedy sleeve of a Topman sleeve. In the lush surroundings of a country estate, we hear MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” (a needle drop that can surely make most adults long for a life they never even had), “Mr. Brightside” from The Killers, and an extraordinary use of a Sophie Ellis-Bextor song (you know which one). Beyond the music, 2000s culture is everywhere: during their summer break, the kids pass around a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, which was released in July 2006. They watch Superbad and The Ring. They have red Ray-Bans and bleached hair. I have never been more sad to have cleared out my wardrobe and thrown away my iPod Nano.

MGM and Amazon Studios

Bodily fluids are soso back

Two films into her career, one of Fennell’s most exciting quality is crafting conversation starters. Beyond the last half an hour, in which several quite obvious plot points are made very explicit, I suspect the main talking point from Saltburn will be all the moments Fennell goes for broke. Some of these are a little try-hard, some are genuinely, effectively weird. All of them contain bodily fluids. At my screening, people squirmed in their seats at three of these scenes. It is hard to discuss without giving too much away, but they are in a similar vein to Promising Young Woman’s eyebrow-raising ending scenes (though Fennell is more confident this time round). It will certainly give you something to discuss as you leave the cinema.

Introducing your new feel-bad crush, Barry Keoghan

Saltburn does not wear its influences particularly lightly, thought that was always going to be a hard task. When you set your film in Oxford and an English country estate, you are working within a well-storied tradition. Fennell wisely leans into the gothic, which gives the film a pleasingly jumpy vibe: vampires, moths, mirrors all make their way into the film. The shadow it cannot shake off is Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley. As Oliver weaves his way into the Catton clan, knowing how to press their buttons and to give them everything and nothing, it is impossible not to fall for him, even if your instincts tell you to run. That is largely thanks to Keoghan, who makes it work even when the script and pacing falls flat (which is increasingly often towards the film’s end). Keoghan is a singular screen presence who has played weird, but never had to play this charmingly weird.

You will not have to think (at all)

In Saltburn, everything is instantly understandable. Fennell has picked the easiest target possible. The twists are not so much twists as slightly rounded corners. There are some well-judged scenes in which power dynamics are delineated, but mostly, you are here for a gorgeously told, occasionally funny, well-acted ride. Pike is superb, as is Oliver. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren’s work bewitches. If the trailer led you to believe that this would somehow be a mystery or thriller or nuanced takedown of class, I am happy to disappoint. Let me tell you what is nice: not thinking.

Saltburn’ is out in cinemas 16 November

This article originally appeared on Esquire UK.


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