Armpit Hair & Wallpaper — the Pain & Glee of ‘Saltburn’ Is in Its Details

Gothic stories generally evoke the faded elegance of the Interwar years in “Atonement” and “Rebecca” or the dark forces hiding behind 19th-century exteriors in “Crimson Peak” or “Jane Eyre.” It’s quite another thing entirely to build a Gothic romance out of Pringles cans, LiveStrong bracelets, and other unfashionable debris of the ‘00s. But that’s what makes writer/director Emerald Fennell‘s “Saltburn” so startling: There’s never a risk of “Downton Abbey”-ifying the English country house at which Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) spends a golden summer holiday with his new Oxford bestie Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi). 

Fennell captures the power and the grandeur of her characters’ desires (and the accompanying dangerously possessive obsession) while constantly roasting them, too. While the low-rise jeans and middle parts of the late ‘90s are making a return, nothing from 15 years ago is ever cool; the film’s music, costumes, set design, and color palette take all that’s unfashionable and blows them up into the arch, dramatic ingredients for Oliver’s schemes to stay a fixture at Saltburn. 

“You can have a kind of Caravaggio-esque mise-en-scene in the world’s most beautiful room, but it can be lit by a shitty karaoke machine. That’s the human thing,” Fennell told IndieWire. “You can make it funny and evil and baroque because you have this sort of tacit understanding, hopefully, with the audience that this is a look into this doll’s house.” It is the film’s ability to hold grand compositions in balance with mundane details, the human touches reflected by the too-polished paneled walls and cavernous windows of Saltburn, that allows Fennell to build a sweeping romance that’s dark and twisted, funny and surprising. 

In the videos below, watch how editor Victoria Boydell, Fennell, and production designer Suzie Davies found ways to blend the film’s tones into a give-and-take between genuine romance, twisted passion, and merciless comedy —  and, in the oscillation between high and low, create a film that feels like a true character study even when things in the English countryside are going absolutely buck-wild.

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