Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman Follow-Up Saltburn Is Already Dividing Critics

The Banshees Of Inisherin’s Barry Keoghan takes the lead in the psychological thriller, but the jury's out on whether it will be Oscar worthy.
Emerald Fennell
Emerald Fennell
JUSTIN TALLIS via Getty Images

It’s been three years since Emerald Fennell made her directing debut with the Oscar-winning Promising Young Woman, and at long last, the former Killing Eve writer’s second movie is about to arrive.

Psychological thriller Saltburn sees The Banshees Of Inisherin’s Barry Keoghan as Oliver, a student struggling to fit in amid the aristocracy and upper classes at the University of Oxford.

He manages to forge a friendship with Felix (played by Euphoria’s Jacob Elordi) and lands an enticing invite to spend a summer at his new pal’s sprawling estate, throwing him into high society life.

The film boasts plenty of big names among its cast, with Rosamund Pike as Felix’s mother, while Richard E. Grant and Carey Mulligan also pop up.

Saltburn will officially premiere at London Film Festival in October, but attendees at Telluride Film Festival were given their first look at it on Thursday night – and it’s safe to say the movie has divided critics.

Here’s what they’ve said so far…

“In the leading role, Keoghan shows a fine range, from unconnected kid lacking sufficient care to resourceful brainiac who, with a bit of luck, could go very far in life. Aside from the wrong turn conception of Grant’s character, the performances are finely judged.

“What’s notable here is an undeniable, perhaps even insatiable desire to pack everything she can think of into the film, to propel the urgency, determinism and undeniable life force that is evident throughout. If Fennell can maintain this level of enthusiasm and creative smarts, avoid the temptation to go Hollywood, take the lucre and direct the latest Marvel concoction, she looks to be off on an excellent trajectory.”

“Fennell is adept at pastiche, and at least she goes for sources worth plundering. But this is a movie that’s all surface cleverness, with nothing terribly insightful to say about its rarefied milieu and those gazing in longingly from the outside.

“Even so, Saltburn is juicy stuff, a revenge thriller that’s often wickedly funny and wildly enjoyable. That’s especially so whenever Rosamund Pike and Richard E. Grant are wafting around the spectacular English country estate that gives the film its title and the visuals their heaping helping of sumptuous real estate porn.”

“Another smirking and vaguely satirical psycho-thriller that wants to have its cake, eat it too, and then soil the plate for good measure, Fennell’s immaculately crafted follow-up to Promising Young Woman might have a lot more fun pushing your buttons if it had any clue how to get under your skin.

“It’s exciting when someone makes a movie bursting with raw talent and half-cocked ideas — much less so when they make two of them in a row.”

“Fennell’s sophomore feature boasts a distinctive, splashy look for its demented critique of pomp and privilege among England’s elitist upper class. Picture Brideshead reduced to ashes by Tom Ripley (Saltburn is the name of a terribly posh estate where half the film takes place).

“The movie’s stylised enough to forgive certain contrivances, but that doesn’t excuse Fennell’s preposterous disregard for psychology.

“As in Promising Young Woman, she’s more focused on orchestrating shock attacks on the ruling class (there, it was the patriarchy, while here, it’s the aristocracy, guilty of being blithely oblivious) and can’t be bothered with plausible human behaviour.”

“Saltburn is not short, but it is consistently entertaining. Fennell makes some bold decisions within those two hours as to where she’s spending her time: in particular a swift narrative cut at the end seems cruel but, when the sacrifice leads to the most entertaining final sequence you will see this year, all can be forgiven.

“Key to the film’s success is Keoghan’s elasticity: his face and eyes can shift with a shadow, and it is impossible to conceive of any other young actor pulling this off.”

“You will need a specific sense of humour to get on the wavelength of Saltburn, one that requires the viewer to giggle at the hilarious absurdities of a peculiar group of stiff-upper-lipped wealthy people, dropping casual lines like ‘We dress for dinner here’ and ‘I have a complete and utter fear of ugliness.’

“With that in place, Saltburn is an eccentric delight, a gaudy and gradually darkening gothic tale through which Fennell delivers heaps of directorial finesse and agile vision, despite sometimes stumbling with over-explained twists and an inexplicable narrow aspect ratio you often wish the film broke away from.”

“Eventually [...] the film’s questions must be answered. Which is, alas, where Fennell once again loses her footing. There is a rush to explain, retroactively, everything we’ve just been watching—unnecessary when the film could have simply left us stumbling back into the light of day plagued by ambiguous mystery.

“A creeping mood piece like Saltburn doesn’t need as much resolution as Fennell gives it, let alone resolution that feels so pat and convenient.”

Saltburn will premiere at the London Film Festival on Wednesday 4 October before arriving in cinemas on Friday 24 November.


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