For the past few weeks, I have been scrambling to watch as many 2023 releases as I can before the year ends. It has been a tumultuous journey to say the least. So many interesting films have come out this past year, some good, some bad, but they all seem to blend together after a while, until I saw Emerald Fennell's latest feature Saltburn. A film I firmly believe to be the craziest film of 2023.
I am a person who aims to see at least one movie in theaters per week, so needless to say I have had quite the number of cinema visits in my lifetime. Only three of these visits can I specifically recall the energy in the theater: Cats, Cocaine Bear, and now: Saltburn.
Emerald Fennell is an English writer and director that made her feature debut with 2020's Promising Young Woman, a polarizing film to say the least. I enjoyed Promising Young Woman despite its many flaws, and I found myself excited to see what Fennell did next, but never in a million years was I expecting something as unique and entrancing as Saltburn. It's one of those films that you watch and think "I wish I made this." It reminds me a lot of Brandon Cronenberg's Infinity Pool that was released earlier this year. Both films are raucous adventures in hedonism and decadence. A visually beautiful film with underlying themes of family secrets and sexual tension.
Saltburn follows the character, Oliver Quick, played by Irish actor, Barru Keoghan. He is a student at Oxford University who seemingly came from nothing, surrounded by some of the richest, privileged kids in the world. It's a somber story, but there is a decent amount of humor in the film's earlier scenes. Oliver becomes friends with one of those rich kids, Felix played by Jacob Elordi, whose family owns a manor called Saltburn, which I would choose to stay in over Buckingham Palace. Felix invites Oliver to stay for as long as he likes, under the impression that Oliver does not have a home to go back to. A wild, mythic summer ensues for Oliver. The next two hours are full of deception, plot twists, great music, and some of the best production design I have ever witnessed on the big screen. Joining Keoghan and Elordi is a stellar supporting cast consisting of Rosamund Pike, Carey Mulligan, Richard E. Grant, Archie Madekwe, and Alison Oliver.
Filming took place at the historic Drayton House in Northhamptonshire, England. And as someone who has never been, the film manages to capture the sheer majesty of the nearly 700 year 0ld building. I can't help but feel envious of the characters who casually get to call it home.
Since its release, Saltburn has gone kind of viral for a particular moment dubbed: "The Bathtub Scene" which has caused almost every bit of promotional merch for the film to feature a bathtub in some way. I won't spoil it for you, but if you're not a fan of bodily fluid, this movie might not be for you.
Saltburn's charm lies in its stunning visuals and unpredictable script. I would describe it as a British Parasite with the filmmaking style of Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. Speaking of Kubrick, I can't help but be reminded of Eyes Wide Shut when it comes to certain themes. The slow, beautiful cinematography of Linus Sandgren truly is something to behold and it pairs very nicely with the work of editor, Victoria Boydell. In terms of the script, Saltburn is the kind of movie where you think you know what's going to happen, but you'll be wrong every time. There isn't a single weak performance from anyone in the cast but Barry Keoghan's acting abilities truly are something to behold. His character, Oliver manages to be sympathetic yet sinister, and you'll never quite know what to expect from him. Jacob Elordi also does a fantastic job at turning a would-be cliché character into someone deeply human.
The entire film has an almost voyeuristic tone. As audience members, we can't help but feel like intruders, placing us in the shoes of Oliver, the main character. Director, Emerald Fennell also noted that the 1:33:1 aspect ratio gives the audience the feeling of "peeping in." I found it kind of genius.
There are still three weeks left of the year, and with some big films yet to come out like Poor Things and The Color Purple, I hesitate to call Saltburn my favorite film of 2023, but that's pretty much how I feel right now. Seeing Salburn in the theater truly is an experience that shouldn't be missed. I don't suspect this will get any sequels or a reboot so you better see it while you can, you won't regret it.