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Saltburn is the Horror Movie We Can't Stop Talking About

Here's everything you want to know.

man in robe overlooking the disaster left on his lawn after a crazy party
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  • Photo Credit: Amazon MGM Studios

After a quiet debut at the 50th Telluride Film Festival and a limited cinematic release, Saltburn was released on Amazon Prime Video in late December. And the internet was immediately obsessed. 

It quickly became one of the most-streamed films on the streaming channel with reactions ranging from love to hate and everything in between. 

The movie has been described as a gothic thriller, a gothic romance, and a black comedy drama. But whether you agree with those descriptions says less about the film and more about the viewer. That’s because Saltburn is a complicated film that isn’t afraid to go the distance. It’s shocking and uncomfortable, exposing the darkest parts of human nature through its delicate underbelly. 

If you’ve been curious about the movie or are simply not ready to let go of your latest obsession, we are dishing out everything you need to know about Saltburn.

But be warned: there are massive spoilers ahead. 

What is Saltburn about? 

Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) thought going to Oxford would solve all his problems. But being on a scholarship means he doesn’t quite have all the upper-class mannerisms his fellow classmates were born with. And that means he’s a bit of an outcast. Until he meets Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi).  

Felix is everything Oliver wants to be. He’s affluent, charming, and really listens to Oliver when he talks about his struggles with his parents. He’s also the only one there for Oliver when tragedy strikes and invites him to spend the summer with Felix at his family country estate. 

Saltburn is everything Oliver imagined. Decadent, eccentric, and memorable. While many in Felix’s family are instantly enamored with Oliver, others are more hesitant to welcome him into the fold. But now that Oliver has been to Saltburn, he never wants to leave. As the summer blurs towards its unforgettable end, Oliver realizes that maybe staying won’t be as difficult as he once imagined. 

Is Saltburn horror?

One of the questions people are asking is whether or not Saltburn is horror. But the answer to that is complicated.

After all, horror is in the eye of the beholder. For some, the sheer grotesqueness of the bathtub scene, the graveyard scene, and the period scene (if you know, you know) is enough to mark this emphatically and undeniably as horror.

For others, disturbing and gross isn’t enough. But let’s take a look at a couple of other aspects. 

From the start, there’s a deep, underlying sense of dread that builds with every scene. Even if you don’t know what the movie is about, there’s something about the dynamic of “haves” versus “have-nots” that lends to the viewer knowing that whatever happens, it won’t be good.

The entire movie plays off that uncertainty, burrowing deep into your psyche as you try to understand who the villain is—and where it’s all going to go wrong.

There’s a history of movies playing with this quieter form of horror, where the jump scares and chase scenes are minimal if they even show up at all. And pigeon-holing horror into those base elements takes away from the rich depth of what the genre can offer. Even the definition of horror—an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust—shows the wide emotional reach of the genre.

And whatever your fear levels of someone pretending to be something they’re not and slowly eradicating your family may be, the shock and disgust of how one man systematically unraveled the residents of Saltburn is shocking and disturbing.

In the end, what works for some, won’t work for others. Saltburn is about the characters and the horror lies in the nuance. This will hit all the right notes for some horror fans and leave others severely wanting more. So, is Saltburn horror? Unfortunately, that is up to you to decide.

Saltburn trailer

Who is in Saltburn

One of the most intriguing aspects of this gothic drama is the incredible cast. The enigmatic Barry Keoghan plays the leading role, giving the reserved character a quiet appeal that could be charming or sinister, given the right light.

Framed around his orbit, Jacob Elordi plays the friendly Felix, who could be using him or be genuine in his affection, an elusive question that bears incredible importance as the plot unfolds.  

Felix’s family is rounded out with Rosamund Pike as his mother, Richard E. Grant as his father, Alison Oliver his mysterious sister Venetia, and Archie Meadows as his distrusting cousin. Carey Mulligan tops off this star-studded cast. Each character is oblivious and careless, sarcastic and aloof. And each actor commits fully to their role, lending a captivating believability to each performance that is simply mesmerizing to watch. 

Guiding the acting is the deft hand of award-winning writer and director Emerald Fennell. Drawing from the desire to capture the charisma of unlikeable people, forcing the viewer to fall in love with them despite their detestable flaws, Saltburn was born.  

What is the message of Saltburn

It’s difficult to not see the similarity in Oliver’s character to Tom Ripley, the charming psychopath of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. The clash between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is quite clear with the impoverished Oliver and the affluent Felix.

Oliver can’t help but be drawn into the delirium that is Felix’s life. It’s grandiose and easy, particularly when contrasted with Oliver’s difficult upbringing. But here is where things get rather interesting. 

As you watch the movie, the idea that the rich are toying with the poor creates a subtle tension that builds with every scene. There are hints that the generosity and kindness the Callow family extends to Oliver is nothing more than a game. Until we reach the twists and turns at the end. 

Woven throughout the film are allusions to how the interplay of status and power are entwined in the relationship between Felix and Oliver, creating a complex dynamic that is constantly pushing and pulling the two characters together and apart.

Oliver wears bull horns at his birthday party, representing the Minotaur, the physical punishment for defying the gods. The theme of the party is A Midsummer Night’s Dream with its ambiguous sexuality, dark love, and the struggle with maintaining identity. And then there’s the actual maze, both on the grounds and the puzzle in the library. 

Saltburn is a movie steeped in symbolism. It starts as a movie about desire and opulence, greed and obsession. But the depth of these themes only becomes more sinister and terrible as the movie goes on.

Where we initially think this about the disparity of wealth and how the rich play games with the poor becomes a discussion on fairness and equity. After all, if the rich have everything, why shouldn’t anyone try to take it? Especially if they’re terrible people. 

There is no good or bad, instead, everyone is a dubious shade of morally gray. Do the Catton’s deserve what happens to them? Perhaps. They discard people instead of things, preferring to pretend to eat a civil lunch instead of openly grieving a devastating loss. In their world, they’re untouchable. No one would dare intrude, let alone destroy them in their own house.

And yet, that doesn’t make Oliver good either. He isn’t noble. He doesn’t hurt them in an effort to teach them the terrible shallowness of their ways. Instead, he simply takes what they are too entitled to protect. And in a world where wealth is often stolen from people who are powerless, isn’t that moral justification enough?  

What did Ollie lie about in Saltburn

At this point it would be easier to write about what Oliver didn’t lie about. He lied about being an only child, the nature of his relationship with his parents, how he grew up, and what his original intentions regarding Felix and his family were.

Everything Oliver did from start to finish was a lie. Carefully constructed and superbly orchestrated. He saw what he wanted and systematically removed every obstacle in his way.  

How did Felix die in Saltburn

The movie never directly talks about how Felix died. The family would rather eat cold pie in a blood red lit room than acknowledge the terrible tragedy that is Felix’s death. But it’s alluded that he overdosed. We find out later that Oliver spiked the bottle of champagne that he gave Felix the night of the party. 

But why would Oliver kill Felix? It all became obvious after Felix tried to surprise Oliver by reuniting him with what he believed was his newly sober mother. But as they pulled up to a lovely middle-class home, with a father that was very much alive, Felix insisted Oliver leave after his extravagant birthday party. 

Who is Venetia in Saltburn

Venetia is Felix’s sister and partial love interest for Oliver. She is a complicated woman struggling with many issues that we never actually hear the detail of. We know she struggles with an eating disorder, among other issues, but the film never goes into wjat they are. More, she’s a lost depressed young woman languishing under a lack of attention from her disinterested parents. 

At first, she’s just as taken with Oliver as the rest. She sits outside his window, trying to catch his attention. It’s all a game in this family. Who is seen, who is acknowledged. So, when Oliver gives her exactly what she’s looking for, drawing her into a game of their own, she jumps in with both feet. It’s no wonder when he pulls away, discards her like the rest that she then starts to see him differently.  

It’s only a tragedy that par for the family credo, she stays quiet, never saying anything to disrupt the peace. And while she finally tells Oliver what she really sees, it still manages to come across as less an exposure of Oliver’s character and more as one last desperate lashing to be seen. 

What was the bathtub scene in Saltburn about? 

Of all the dark and disturbing scenes in the film, perhaps the one that shocks the most is the bathtub scene. It’s bad enough that Oliver watches Felix masturbate in the tub.

But after Felix leaves and the water drains, he drinks the last vestiges of the water, drinking what we can only imagine are the remnants of Felix’s semen. 

What’s brilliant about this scene, is like all the careful allusions to who Oliver truly is, it’s disguised. We see him turn his back on his only friend, desperate to be let into a more pedigreed friend group.

The movie starts with Oliver explaining that he loved Felix, though, maybe not in love. So this scene symbolizes the depth of that obsession, the desire to be with someone you can’t.  

The truth though is more complex. It’s a scene of desire, but not sexual. At least, not entirely. It’s wanting what you can’t have, but in this case, it’s to be Felix. To own what he owns, be what he is. Oliver takes what he wants, using whatever tactics he can.

And in that scene, he takes what Felix won’t give, showing us how far Oliver will go before we even suspect how cold and calculating he truly is. 

Where can I watch Saltburn

the posh rich lying in their picturesque yard overlooking their castle
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  • Photo Credit: Amazon MGM Studios

If you want to watch Saltburn and decide for yourself how twisted this movie truly is, it’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime.