Tag: saltburn

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A stylized shot of a man's naked back in a dimly lit room in Emerald Fennell's "Saltburn".

Petty Bourgeois: Why “Saltburn” Stings

Another film gains notoriety on social media—albeit among people who don’t watch films. There are some notorious scenes (better not watch that with your mum in the room!). The word of mouth creates imaginative hyperbole. Next thing you know, it’s the film of the season. Variety and BuzzFeed start up the click factory. YouTube essays. Think-pieces. Heavy-breathing equivocation.

Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn is the latest in a long line of chic millennial horror films—the word ‘horror’ here meaning: ‘something to titillate middle class consumers’. Over a decade of darlings from A24 have laid the ground for New Hollywood. And what’s more, these are filmmakers with a social conscience: a social critique, even. Narratives of classism, bourgeois excess and social injustice have become the default subtext of the genre, its cause celebre. Triangle of Sadness and The Menu number among the recent additions to social media’s ‘Eat the Rich’ hashtag.

My problem with Saltburn is that it feels tired. Its message lacks force. Its means lack originality. In short, it’s a film that lacks even as it throws everything and the kitchen sink towards a resolution. […]

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A stylzed shot from Emerald Fennell's "Saltburn", depicting candles, mirrors, and a reflected face.

Sordid Romp: On Emerald Fennell’s “Saltburn” (2023)

What’s there to say about Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn? On the one hand, it is a very attractive movie, full of attractive people, aimed towards the sort of moviegoers who spend a lot of time on Letterboxd and gorge on A24 films. This is not an A24 film, but the studio who produced Saltburn, LuckyChap Entertainment (also responsible for the billion-dollar-grossing Barbie), certainly knows of the audience overlap between them, and knows even better the sorts of aesthetics best displayed to trap their gaze. Aesthetics, as well as thematics: a little something about class, here, and a smattering of queerness, there. Best of all, it knows how to create “conversation,” and how to mix into that hodge-podge of thematic currency a dash of sensationalism: “Wait, he did what to the bathwater? Goodness me.” These are not novel strategies, by any means, but they are strategies, nonetheless; strategies which today’s studios will happily utilize in their bid for cultural clout.

On the other hand, this is a movie about a conniving murderous pervert, whose chosen prey falls easily to the most blatant manipulations only because they are written to be rich and gullible (richly gullible?) dimwits. The audience is clued into his manipulations pretty early on, which is not an unwise decision, but the trick after that is to surprise the audience with, perhaps, the cleverness of the manipulator’s tactics, and how deftly he might weave his trap around the glamorous inhabitants of the estate. […]