Movie review: 'Saltburn' shocks fail to engage

Jacob Elordi stars in "Saltburn." Photo courtesy of Prime Video
1 of 5 | Jacob Elordi stars in "Saltburn." Photo courtesy of Prime Video

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Saltburn, in select theaters Friday, may be an accurate depiction of how chaotic stalkers can be. Unfortunately, the film can scare off viewers like an actual stalker.

Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) is in Oxford in 2002 on a scholarship. He is an outcast to the wealthy student body until Felix (Jacob Elordi) befriends him.


Felix invites Oliver to spend a holiday with his family at their Saltburn estate. There, Oliver meets Felix's parents, Elspeth (Rosamund Pike) and James (Richard E. Grant), and sister, Venetia (Alison Oliver).

At first it appears Saltburn will focus on the culture clash between Oliver and Felix's eccentric, privileged family. Soon Oliver begins to manipulate the family members to endear himself to them.

Felix already has another friend, Farleigh (Archie Madekwe), staying at Saltburn, and Farleigh does not appreciate the competition from Oliver, who gets caught in some lies. .

By the time Saltburn reveals some shocking actions, they're more likely to push viewers away than entice them further into the web. Suggestive and graphic scenes involving menstrual blood are the least of Saltburn's unappealing shocks.

There are also hints of bisexuality as Oliver flirts with both Venetia and Felix. Farleigh could be a rival for both, though he seems way more attached to Felix..


The sexual dynamic is only a superficial garnish. So, it never becomes deep enough to add any substance to the proceedings.

The world of wealthy elites is also inherently less gripping than writer-director Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman. In her previous film, Fennell explored revenge against date rapists and upended the conventions of genre movies.

Promising Young Woman is unfortunately universal because everyone either has known someone who has been raped or seen a revenge movie, and unfortunately a majority can claim both.

With Saltburn, Felix's family may make themselves easy marks by being oblivious to the real world, but it doesn't make theirs a compelling world to visit. Not every movie has to be universal, but Seeing Saltburn through Oliver's eyes only makes it more off-putting.

Saltburn is well-photographed, and the actors commit to the extremities asked of them. Nobody comes away looking bad. It's just a misguided effort.

Saltburn expands its release Wednesday.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.


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