A loathsome, smug, smarmy & disgustingly conceited film, which was literally unwatchable
- Saltburn review by TB
In December 2020, Emerald Fennell wrote & directed Promising Young Woman. It is important to contextualise this film's impact was as much to do with the world's state of mind, being released in the thick of the Covid pandemic, as it was the quality of the film itself. I mention #MeToo deliberately, as there was significant traction pre-pandemic, which then exploded during it, with multiple examples of violence towards women being exacerbated due to lockdowns. My point here is that Promising Young Woman captured that, which was a big reason for it's success. And I gave it 4 stars in my review, despite some reservations I had.
But what Ms Fennell has done to follow this is to make one of the most clichéd, lazy & antagonistic films you could possibly imagine. For me, it was unwatchable, so much so that I switched it off after 30 minutes. Saltburn looks at the class system, also adding LGBTQIA into the mix. But the way that this film has been written is just atrocious.
The best way I can describe it is to use an example from the polar opposite of it's class critique. In Little Britain, there is a character called Vicky Pollard. She is written as an extremely aggressive, unpleasant, lazy & feckless chav. She is literally a satirisation of the most extreme elements of the working class, turned up to 11. But she is also a part of a comedy show that has many other stereotypes, in a comedy series which unashamedly wears it's overblown characters on its sleeve. Nobody, unless they were either stupid or totally disingenuous, would claim that Pollard represented all of the working classes.
Now flip that example around, so that it is looking at the "upper classes," make pretty much every single character that you encounter (within the 30 minutes that I could tolerate it) a walking clichéd stereotype of disgusting wealth, and because subtlety is not something which seems to exist for Ms Fennell, make every single actor mug horribly to accentuate these traits as much as possible.
But what I loathe & despise most about this film is the sheer laziness of the writing. At one point, about 20 minutes in, I paused it when one obnoxious character walked up to the protagonist to say something, then predicted exactly what he was going to say. I then pressed play & around 90% of it was dead-on. Every character says exactly what you'd expect them to say, in exactly the way you'd expect them to say it.
And the level of smugness of the writing just vomits out of the screen. This film not only loves this world it has created, it thinks it is cutting edge & genre-defining. And on the point of laziness, don't for a second think that I hate this film because of it's targeting of the upper classes. I would detest this film just as much if it was the working classes in its crosshairs. What I most object to is the fact that it's idea of satire is to look at a particular group, find the stereotypes & then just exacerbate those to an idiotic degree.
You only have to look at American Psycho for a masterful deconstruction of the privileged, even though that film is set in America. One irony about it, which would be too subtle for Saltburn to notice, is how Patrick Bateman at times actively adopts & mocks the other members of this class that he is trying to fit into, but this is part of the satire of the script, brilliantly written by Mary Harron & Guinevere Turner.
Saltburn is literally unwatchable, unbearable & vapid. It is a film which had a large number of critics falling over themselves to praise & revere. I actively hated & despised it, as much for its smugness as its script.
Ironically, I watched this the same day as Pig Killer, another rancid film (and one which I have also reviewed.) And my friend who I saw both with later pointed out that I enjoyed Pig Killer more. That's the level we are talking about.
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