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Hilltop Views

REVIEW: Saltburn is a release that was far from expected on the big screen

Illustration+of+Oliver+Quick%2C+as+Puck+%E2%80%94+capable+or+raw+actions%2C+buried+behind+the+sweet+hearted+mask+%E2%80%94+during+his+birthday+party+at+Saltburn.
Gabrielle Caumon / Hilltop Views
Illustration of Oliver Quick, as Puck — capable or raw actions, buried behind the sweet hearted mask — during his birthday party at Saltburn.

It’s been a while since I have been genuinely surprised by the end of a movie. Nowadays, the majority of film releases are a prequel, a reboot, an adaptation or the umpteenth entry of a franchise. The scripts are overused, leaving no more surprises for the audience, including obvious endings. Where is the magic of having emotions at the movie theater if we already know what is going to happen?

Despite this recent trend, director Emerald Fennell left me stunned with her new movie “Saltburn,” released on Nov. 17, 2023. Fennell goes beyond what the audience could expect upon entering the theater. In a disturbing masterpiece combining sexual tension, manipulation and obsession, she immerses audiences inside the British, upper-class world. 

 

The script 

I was stunned to see this movie on the big screen. I went into the movie theater with no clue what to expect, and I walked out with my jaw on the floor. The story is a breath of fresh air for the cinema industry, and is by far the most original movie I have seen in years. “Saltburn” certainly won’t please everyone, with several unnerving scenes begetting awkward silences — often ending up as uncomfortable laughs. Indeed, Fennell is not scared to shock people, pushing the audience to its limits with wild situations no one could have envisaged. She manages to bring together her strong directing choices with a hilarious, well-timed touch of comedy.

 

Cinematography  

Simply put: “Saltburn” is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. 

Other than the perfect visual balance present throughout the movie, Fennell’s bold cinemagraphic choices caught my attention. There is a certain beauty in the rawness of Fennell’s shots that makes the whole experience aesthetically pleasing. 

These days, practically all movies have sexual scenes. “Saltburn,” though, is more of an erotic novel. Even though Fennell explores dark fantasies I’ve never seen at the movie theater, she only gives audiences a taste of it, leaving the viewers to their own imagination. Similarly, Fennell has the ability to pull away the disgusting aspect of something that would generally be considered repelling — a fly trap with cadavers on it, vomit on a sink, semen — to showcase them in some surprisingly delightful sequences.

Intrusive gazes are another major aspect of the movie. It is fascinating to see how Fennell uses interesting perspective shifts, like going from one character watching another to the person being watched. Either through windows, slightly open doors, or mirror reflections: it is never from the character’s eyes but always from behind its shoulder. 

Fennell also plays a lot with lighting contrasts to create silhouettes. This is often used in scenes that portray the main character, Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), at his darkest, accentuating his predatorial appearance. The majority of the lights come from the windows, exposing either the characters to the sunlight or their shadows, referencing the visual style of Baroque paintings.

It is very intriguing to see how Keoghan’s height affects audiences’ point of view. This illustrates Fennell’s cinematographic technique to sublimate personalities. She shows the audience reality as well as what she wants us to perceive. Keoghan, being one of the shortest people in the cast at 5-foot-8 — in comparison to 6-foot-5 Jacob Elordi, who plays Felix Catton, or even 5-foot-9 Rosamund Pike, who plays Elspeth — his character always needs to look up when he talks to someone. However, when Oliver’s dominant side comes out, he always finds a way to talk from above the person targeted.  

Lastly, the color palette Fennell opted for is powerful and adds to the charm of the movie. It’s meticulously thought out and perfectly completes the atmosphere of the scenes happening on the screen, where specific colors like red can be found in many important scenes throughout the film.

 

The Cast 

Overall, the cast is amazing, with perceptible and genuine chemistry between them all.

Pike and Richard E. Grant, who plays Sir James Catton, embody, in a delightful satire, delusional British parents from high society. The portrayals of Venicia Catton (Alison Oliver) and Farleigh Start (Archie Madekwe) are fantastic as well, with their authentic and poignant performances captivating audiences. 

To my surprise, Keoghan absolutely stole the spotlight from Elordi. For once, Elordi depicts a charming, young adult who takes Oliver under his wings, far from the angry and narcissistic personalities we are used to seeing from him, such as Elvis Presley in “Priscilla” and Nate Jacobs in “Euphoria.”

Indeed, Keoghan is remarkably charismatic on screen. His performance and audacity as Oliver leaves audiences speechless. He has, in his gaze and style of acting, this uniqueness that makes him vulnerable to the audience. 

I was in awe when I saw Keoghan completely metamorphosing from one scene to another. He perfectly incarnates the new student from Prescot, Merseyside who is just trying to fit into the world of Oxford. Throughout the movie, we develop compassion for Oliver, who seems to be lusting over his classmate Felix’s wealthy universe. Although Oliver sometimes exhibits very creepy behavior — in which he tends to look dominating — the spectator still assimilates him as the insecure, lost soul portrayed at the beginning of the movie. 

“Saltburn” left a significant impression on me, and I highly recommend it. This film has scenes that everyone will talk about for a long time. For the ones who like watching unprecedented movies: race to see it for free on Prime Video. I give to “Saltburn” a more-than-deserved 5 out of 5 goats.



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About the Contributor
Gabrielle Caumon, Staff Writer
Gabrielle Caumon is a junior from Paris, France, who is pursuing a major in the BFA Acting program and a minor in Journalism. This is her second semester writing for Hilltop Views and her first as a Staff Writer. She loves writing for the Life & Arts section, and is excited to branch out and try out other genres.

Comments (5)

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  • L

    LuisJan 25, 2024 at 4:27 pm

    This is the best piece of literature on this website. I have read this several times, and the quality of this piece amazes me every time. It’s so insightful and inspiring.

    Reply
  • S

    SiennaJan 24, 2024 at 6:35 pm

    Beautifully written Gabby!

    Reply
  • B

    Brian MoloneyJan 22, 2024 at 6:36 pm

    Bon travail GC

    Reply
  • E

    ElsaJan 19, 2024 at 6:20 pm

    Such a great point too about the shadows! I really like the style of writing keeps us reading more!

    Reply
  • E

    ElsaJan 19, 2024 at 6:14 pm

    Awesome article!!! I agree. 🙂

    Reply