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Emerald Fennell doubles down on the many flaws of her first feature in Saltburn, a maddeningly incoherent, needlessly shocking, toothless satire that comes off as a poor man’s Tom Ripley movie.

A lack of character plausibility, an overindulgence in narrative rug-pulling and blunt, nuance-free morals: those were what irked me about Emerals Fennel's previous movie Promising Young Woman. By and large, her second feature delivers more of the same.

Saltburn revolves about a student from a disadvantaged background who befriends an elite classmate and is invited over the summer to his parents' lofty estate. Enthralled by their indulgence, the protagonist slowly becomes intoxicated by the lifestyle.

As far as satires go, this is not the most ingenous of set-ups but that is the least of Saltburn's troubles. While stylishly shot in the currently in vogue 4:3 ratio the picture quickly reveals itself as a lazy, cheap thriller that borrows wholesale from Patricia Highsmith but has neither her substance nor class.

For the film's first hour I was willing to tolerate this, but once the players are asked to act wholly out of character and Fennell drops in scenes merely for shock value instead of narrative urgency you just know this isn't going to end pretty.

Add in the fact that Saltburn in its third act uses basically the same unbelievable sleight-of-hand that Promising Young Woman applied (or season two of Killing Eve for that matter) and it would appear that Emerald Fennel - just two movies into her directing career - is already running out of ideas.

release: 2023

director: Emerald Fennell

starring: Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Archie Madakwe, Rosamund Pike


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