Watching Barry Keoghan slurp Jacob Elordi’s sperm from a bathplug is distressing at the best of times, without one’s parents giving a running commentary along the side. Mum sat demurely, prosecco in hand. She’s seen Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange: she can handle anything. Dad was equally demure, although confessed to being quite shocked by the ‘grave scene’ (mum was asleep by this point). “You do watch some pretty interesting things, Joshua”, he said – and we carried on watching.
Saltburn isn’t exactly a festive classic akin to the likes of Love, Actually and The Holiday. Far from it. It’s a raunchy, but cursed depiction of Oxford students being, well, Oxford students. You would think this would hardly be my parents’ cup of tea. That being said, dad said he rather enjoyed it. “Is this really what Oxford students get up to?”, he asked. I shrugged. I wouldn’t know.
If you’re looking for scathing social commentary, satirical class consciousness or deadly serious messaging, Saltburn isn’t for you. Come on, be serious – it’s Brideshead Revisited from Wish, with a dash of The Talented Mr Ripley sprinkled in for good measure. I wasn’t expecting acute analysis, in fairness. Whilst Emerald Fennell’s previous movie Promising Young Woman certainly has important things to say, I remember being more compelled by the picture’s thriller aspects. Just so with Saltburn. It’s fun, playful, and a little bit jarring.
A lot of people accuse Saltburn of being a prime example of ‘vibes over substance’. To that I say, did we watch the same movie? Yes, the varsity-fiction-meets-manor-house aesthetic is excellent; but he literally slurps semen out of a bathplug. That being said, there are certainly moments where the plot seems to slow. But one is too shocked from the previous scenes to notice. Whether it’s bathtub-gate, ‘I’m a vampire’ (if you know you know) or (by far the worst of the three) the grave scene, viewers are kept in awe for the duration.
You might say that the film is a desperate attempt at shock value for shock value’s sake. There is a hint of truth in that. But that doesn’t make it bad. Barry Keoghan’s Oliver is supposed to be a superfreak, so why not make it super freaky? Keoghan’s performance is captivating. His character changes suddenly, with little to no cause for why: he’s the perfect sociopath, and he plays it off well. And upon learning that the grave scene was IMPROVISED (?!?!?!) it’s safe to say that when Keoghan performs a weirdo, he really takes on the mantle.
Equally stellar is Rosamund Pike. Watching Elspeth mince around her manor saying completely tone-deaf things like ‘They probably don’t have rehab in Liverpool’ (her opening line, in fact) is an utter joy. Similarly, her interactions with ‘Poor Dear Pamela’ (Karey Mulligan) are a perfect blend of sickly sweet and scathing passive aggression. One cannot help but want to be friends with her. She’s awful, yes, but you adore her. Is that because it’s hard to hate anything that Rosamund Pike does? Certainly, and we love her for it.
But of course, we have the one and only: Jabob Elordi. Whilst I certainly wouldn’t go as far as Oliver, I can see the appeal. He’s charming, sweet and beautiful. Yes, he has a hint of a saviour complex (something he no doubt gets from his mother); but one cannot find it in themselves to dislike him. Elordi is just too delightful for that. And the eyebrow piecing is an excellent touch. Thanks Emerald Fennell. Thank you very much.
With that being said, I simply can’t end a review of Saltburn without mentioning the soundtrack. It’s a noughties dream. Murder on the Dancefloor, Perfect Exceeder, Sound of the Underground (as an avid Girl’s Aloud fan, I was thrilled). You can tell Fennell was in her prime during the 2000s, and she brings this nostalgia with a perfect blend of fun and frenzy. I’ve had Sophie Ellis-Bextor on repeat since watching Saltburn, and I think I’m not alone in that. I hope Fennell cuts her a hefty pay check: she deserves it.
Saltburn is NOT a family movie. But it’s a fun one. Watch alone, or with company if, like me, you like a little bit of chaos. Come along for the ride: you might regret it, but you will certainly have a thrill.
Feature image by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.