The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Review | ‘Saltburn’ didn’t nail the pacing or focus required for a film of its nature

Directed by Emerald Fennell of “Promising Young Woman,” the enticing film focuses on a student’s obsession over a classmate that slowly descends into madness, but it lacks in execution.
Isabella Tisdale
FilmScene Cinema is seen on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.

“Saltburn” was Emerald Fennell’s sophomore film, following up her previous work, “Promising Young Woman,” with a tumultuous watch that didn’t feel entirely conclusive. 

The film immediately presents itself on somewhat of a grand scale. The introductory music and title card, along with setting up the premise of the first act are served dramatically to the audience, almost resembling an attempt to emulate a modern Shakespeare. 

The initial premise is appealing, drawing the audience in as we slowly see Barry Keoghan’s character, “Oliver,” develop an attraction for his male counterpart in the film, “Felix,” played by Jacob Elordi.  

These two characters prove to be the most intriguing aspect of the film, especially as we see them parallel each other within the first two acts.

Keoghan plays his role perfectly as the alienated Oliver, and viewers discern this based on his unlikable group of friends who are seemingly the only people interested in him. 

We also perceive Oliver’s infatuation with Felix through his lens, which the film does an excellent job of showcasing. Felix is presented in the first act as always at a distance, yet surrounded by other objects or people.

RELATED: Review | ‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ is a perfectly average prequel

Further, the film doesn’t allow its viewers to remove themselves from Oliver and his off-putting nature. 

The second act manages to maintain much of the foundation the first act establishes without elevating the stakes. The story becomes a narrative about class, wealth, and how those who have power view other people as material goods — easily replaceable. 

Though clearly commentating on socioeconomic status, the film fails to convey any message more complex than what has already been presented through anti-upper-class films of the past. 

The third act is a descent into chaos and the orchestral climax of the entire piece. The delivery of this final act is full of symbolism and a variation of tones, but it just misses the mark on successfully concluding the arc built between the characters that the viewers had been largely invested in. 

The primary issue of the film seems to be how densely packed it is. “Saltburn” is so full of symbolism, references to old media, clever lines, and tonal shifts that it is spilling over the confines of its runtime. 

There are extremely emotional moments, along with some extremely funny ones, that are executed well in this film. But the main problem lies in the pacing of these moments and the dramatic overtone of the film, setting an expectation that wasn’t necessarily met in the end. 

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Caden Gantenbein, Arts Reporter
Caden Gantenbein is a screenwriting major as well as a film minor. He is a junior starting this fall and this is his first semester at the DI.
Isabella Tisdale, Photojournalist
Isabella Tisdale is a photojournalist for The Daily Iowan and is a senior at West High school. In her free time, she stage manages for the theater program at West High. She plans to double major in political science and journalism.