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Call Me by Your Name’s Sinister Cousin: My Review of Saltburn

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UC Irvine chapter.

If there is one thing I love, it is a house with blatant sex appeal. A house with a name, an essence, and several unnecessarily large portraits of French political figures. 

With divisive reviews, Saltburn was released a few days ago, putting Jacob Elordi in Armie Hammer’s limelight, just without the cannibalism. After his work in Netflix’s The Kissing Booth, it was hard for me to see Elordi in a serious role. Sure, he’s got the height, the hair, and the masculine androgyny that makes you look twice, but his performance as the hot older brother in The Kissing Booth wasn’t anything crazy, to no fault of his. Euphoria did a lot for him, it showed me he’s capable of playing a sociopath (almost too well?). This introduced a spectrum: on one end he can gauge his raw sex appeal and get away with not-too-deep roles, but he can also swing to the other end and push limits. 

Saltburn follows Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), a name so Dickensian that he’s gotta do at least one outlandish thing. Oliver is in his early days at the prestigious Oxford, in 2002, when he sees Felix, played by Elordi. With his too-short sleeves and an elusive eyebrow piercing, Felix is exactly the kind of person you want to know. Exactly the kind of person you can’t tell if you want to be or to be with. He’s fleeting and ephemeral, more of an idea of a person than an actual person. Oliver and Felix become friends, the type of friendship where for one party it might be borderline obsession, and for the other party something to tolerate. It’s almost Freudian, being so close with someone it’s like a sibling, but still being in love with them. Of course, to Felix, Oliver’s neediness and seeming instability overpowers his actual appeal as a friend. The same way a person will take care of a stray cat, Felix shows a strange type of care, one so shallow that it’s easily mistaken for connection. As Oliver gets deeper into his friendship with Felix, it’ll almost seem wholesome. You’ll almost feel bad for him when he overhears Felix talking to his girl of the week about how no one likes Oliver. Almost. 

It’ll almost feel okay when Felix shows the ultimate display of pity when he invites Oliver to Saltburn, his family’s lush, expansive, grassy estate where he summers. Almost. 

Things take a turn, and quickly. Oliver discovers his true self: a crafty, sexually inexperienced, freak. The sexual encounters in this movie are few and far between there are only two really sexual scenes. However, several scenes are more erotic; sometimes disturbingly so. Fennell flexes her greatest muscle, walking the fine line between eroticism and borderline insanity. Dangerous, almost disturbing eroticism in movies is a favorite of mine because it pushes the limits of humanistic obsession, and if you know me, you know I love media that makes you uncomfortable. Saltburn has a pornographic feel to it, but the two sexual encounters are pretty far from it. The forbidden eroticism that movies are beginning to dabble in is invasive but effective. 

Oliver’s yearning is rather girlish: it’s haunting and deep and it gores viewers through the heart. Felix’s non-reciprocation of this only breeds a more determined Oliver, who does some very questionable things on his quest for Felix. The bathtub scene, which feels almost illegal to watch, is in cahoots with Elio’s encounter with the very vapid peach in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, and the graveyard scene, which feels voyeuristic and calculated on Fennell’s part. 

The movie starts rather slowly, and you cannot really tell it’s escalating until it’s already on the comedown. I think this style of writing and movie production is rather challenging, a director must be shrewd and intentional in her writing, but vague enough that it passes just over the viewer’s heads. We saw this attempt to be done in Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry, Darling, which, unfortunately, fell flat. Building enough suspense and being strategic enough to veil the climax is a difficult feat, and it leaves viewers inebriated in the comedown. The familiar what did I just watch feeling.

And the name. The phrase ‘salt burn’ refers to the combination of proteins with salt when it touches (specifically a fish’s) flesh, and therefore prevents the salt from further penetrating the flesh. Oliver can get close to Felix, skin to skin, but he’ll never penetrate him.

Saltburn felt wet and nauseating. It’s desperate and complicated and relishes in its embarrassment. 
The whole movie has a very sexual feel to it, but not in the usual humanistic way. It blurs the lines between lust and sex, crossing into borderline pornography, without directly dabbling in porn. The movie simply oozes sex appeal, but like I said in the beginning, the sexiest thing about it is the house.

Molly Summers

UC Irvine '25

Molly is a third-year Literary Journalism major with a minor in Philosophy. When she is not in class, Molly enjoys reading, hanging out with friends, and drinking copious amounts of iced oat milk lattes. Born and raised in Steamboat, Colorado, Molly loves to ski and has spent the better portion of her life outside. She is very excited to be in southern California for a change and be a part of Her Campus!