The newest movie from acclaimed filmmaker Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) was one of several secret screenings at this year’s Fantastic Fest. It was also the opening night movie of 2023’s Austin Film Festival. Those who watched Fennell’s previous film should expect a bold and provocative new entry from this exciting and creative filmmaker. While Saltburn isn’t exactly original with its story, the way that Emerald Fennell develops it and presents it to her audiences is worthy of praise and discussion.

Barry Keoghan stars as Oliver Quick, a seemingly shy and humble Freshman college student at Oxford University, who initially feels out of place amongst the elitist, wealthy, and more confident students who attend his school. However, as Oliver tries to adjust to his new, intimidating setting, he manages to befriend an older and more popular student, Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), who eventually welcomes him to join him and his circle of wealthy friends.

As the school year ends, Felix invites Oliver to spend the summer with him and his family at their lavish estate, Saltburn. As Oliver gets to know the family, there is something off about them. Their eccentricity is off the charts; however, Oliver still finds himself enamored with them and realizes he has grown increasingly fascinated with Felix. As Oliver spends more time with the Catton family, hints of his true nature are revealed throughout this fateful summer.

I was intrigued by this unnerving, often disturbing new entry from Emerald Fennell. Saltburn plays out like a slow burn that ignites furiously in critical moments and culminates in a surely unforgettable climax. Again, I didn’t find the story completely original, as it plays out like a more demented and disturbing version of The Talented Mr. Ripley. Still, Fennell’s skills and talents as a storyteller are on beautiful display here, and like her previous movie, she never fails to deliver shock and awe superbly.

Fennell and her casting director have assembled an extraordinary cast, with Barry Keoghan earning his place as the exceptional standout in the film. Jacob Elordi also delivers a solidly nuanced performance as the charming target of Oliver’s admiration. Saltburn also can boast tremendously wonderful turns by Rosamund Pike, Richard E. Grant, and Alison Oliver as Felix’s parents and sister. Watching these actors perform on the big screen should be an acting clinic for any student actors wanting to experience dynamic performances.

Saltburn is another of Emerald Fennell’s provocative and challenging films that won’t appeal to more reserved and conservative audiences. I could detect some disgusted reactions from some of the attendees at the Austin Film Festival screening. As for me, I was mostly blown away by how boldly and forcefully Fennell pushes the envelope to evoke such dramatic responses from her audiences.

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