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Review: “Saltburn” is a tantalizing portrayal of obsession in the most disturbing yet memorable way [MUSE]

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Spoiler warning: This review contains information regarding the ending of this film.

Released in November of 2023, “Saltburn” has shaken film standards with its deeply enticing and grotesque nature. Its stellar combination of plotlines, characters, and interwoven themes is sure to keep audiences glued to their seats and psychologically affected.

To contextualize, “Saltburn” is the story of Oliver Quick, played by Barry Keoghan, a poor scholarship student admitted to the prestigious Oxford University. While there, Oliver struggles to make friends until he meets the charming Felix Catton, played by Jacob Elordi. Oliver quickly develops a liking for Felix and does everything to be near him. After Oliver’s dad dies, Felix invites him to his family home, aptly titled Saltburn. Oliver’s stay at Saltburn brings him closer to Felix’s family, and he becomes obsessed with all of Felix’s family members. The next months are marked by Oliver’s integration into the Catton family and his role in their demise. The movie ends with Oliver becoming the sole owner of Saltburn after causing the death of every Catton family member.

I went in without knowing anything about this movie, and it took me on a rollercoaster of emotions I hadn’t experienced from a movie before. Some scenes made my jaw drop, and I’m glad I didn’t watch this with my parents. Despite this movie messing with my brain, I have to give it its laurels as it is an incredibly well-curated depiction of obsession and is definitely an unforgettable experience.

My favorite part of this movie is the main protagonist and unreliable narrator, Oliver Quick. Oliver is a sociopathic, murderous, and overall terrible individual. However, the movie frames him in a way where I could almost sympathize with him. In the beginning, I assumed Oliver as a character was supposed to juxtapose Felix, as Oliver came from no money and Felix had insurmountable wealth. But I soon realized Oliver wasn’t at Saltburn to “eat the rich” but rather to dismantle the dysfunctional family and drain them from the inside out. His poor, weird kid persona is all a guise to make the Catton family pity him while he slowly manipulates each member into feeding his desires.

With Felix, he became a charity case to appeal to Felix’s savior complex. With Venetia, he made it seem like he appreciated every part of her because of her struggles with self-worth and a history of being a masochist with body image issues. He pleased Farleigh by allowing him to be superior, easing Farleigh’s inferiority complex stemming from his mother’s lack of money. Most importantly, with Elspeth, he gave her a platform to express her critical opinions without being judged or reprimanded. Although he didn’t directly satisfy Mr. Catton, he did successfully play the part of a dangerous guest, so Mr. Catton would pay him to never return to Saltburn again, which is exactly what Oliver wanted. Oliver’s perfect yet hidden manipulation was brilliantly directed, so the audience never understands his motives until the very end.

Beyond the spectacular usage of Oliver as a character and the well-written plot lines that go along with him, I also heavily appreciate the visuals, symbolism, and music used throughout the movie. The filming of this movie captured the early 2000s British aesthetic to a tee, while also using light, windows, and height to showcase power plays and something more sinister lurking beneath the surface. The symbolism was also spectacular, as seen through the black stones or even Pamela as a character. Both of these motifs played pivotal foreshadowing roles and helped unravel Oliver’s facade. Lastly, the music fit the mood exceptionally well, and the end scene with Oliver dancing naked in Saltburn with “Murder on the Dancefloor” was twisted yet a perfect touch.

The only real critique I have for this movie is how there were absolutely no consequences for any of Oliver’s actions/slip-ups. When Felix found out Oliver had been intimate with Venetia or that his dad was still alive and the family wasn’t poor, Oliver never faced any repercussions, which I found odd. Also, I thought it was strange how the family never once thought Oliver could’ve been the killer even when he fit the description perfectly. Even Duncan, the creepy butler, never accused or punished Oliver, which, on one hand, could show Oliver’s perfect manipulation, but to me, it came off as a lazy lack of consequences for the main character.

Overall, “Saltburn” is a deeply disturbing psychological thriller I can’t stop thinking about. It was incredibly well-made but will definitely haunt you. Also, some of the more controversial scenes are repulsive, so just be cautious before watching the movie. It’s a good movie to watch, but I cannot guarantee mental sanity afterward.

On this blog, members of the Carmel High School chapter of the Quill and Scroll International Honorary Society for High School Journalists (and the occasional guest writer) produce curations of all facets of popular culture, from TV shows to music to novels to technology. We hope our readers always leave with something new to muse over. Click here to read more from MUSE.

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