Viral success of Saltburn’s gross-out scenes only makes me hate it more

Tom Davidson
3 min readJan 19, 2024

I was not a fan of Saltburn.

I caught Emerald Fennell’s second film in cinemas and thought it was an overlong, wannabe-transgressive hodge-podge of The Talented Mr Ripley and Brideshead Revisited with some viral ‘shock value’ thrown into the mix.

Barry Keoghan’s Oliver prepares to slurp some cummy bathwater

I also thought the central politics of it — the upper class should beware the treacherous middle class who want to usurp them — was at best misjudged and at worst downright offensive.

(A colleague of mine at the Evening Standard wrote more on that particular subject that you can read here).

Try as I might, I cannot help but loathe the viral success the film has enjoyed in recent weeks, as I shout to the high heavens that it is not a sign of quality filmmaking.

First off, Oscar-winning screenwriter Fennell played a blinder in casting both Jacob Elordi and Barry Keoghan in the two main roles; Elordi the traditional high-school-quarterback handsome and Keoghan more geeky and unusual (both have shimmering physiques, of course, and aren’t shy about getting their kit off).

Throw in some (aforementioned: terrible) class politics, a slew of classic British actors (Richard E Grant deserves better) and several disgusting but nonsensical sex scenes and TikTok is your oyster. Chapeau.

The film enjoyed some modest box office success in the UK, and was warmly-ish received by critics but landing on Amazon Prime over Christmas has quickly seen it enjoy a new life as a viral sensation, with ‘reaction’ videos incredibly popular on TikTok and Instagram.

To add to that Saltburn has, somehow, just snagged five BAFTA nominations.

In a chat with the BBC Fennell, who has won as many Oscars as Martin Scorsese, said the ‘bathtub scene’, where Keoghan’s Oliver drinks the cummy bathwater of Elordi’s superrich Felix had a reaction because it is “both diabolical and revolting, and unbelievably relatable”.

What utter nonsense. Youthful desire and eroticism is one thing, the reason it has got such a reaction is because it’s foul/repulsive and to claim it is ‘relatable’ is disingenuous.

The BBC breathlessly reports that Saltburn is “filled with an abdundance of viral scenes” (there is another scene of Oliver performing oral sex on Felix’s sister while she is menstruating, one of Oliver sexually threatening Felix’s friend and of Oliver having sex with Felix’s grave…).

Deadline reports that Saltburn-related clips have notched up four billion views on TikTok. Well, whoop-de-do.

Fennell has gamely tried to deny the reason for the runaway viral success is because of these aforementioned scenes.

She told the BBC’s culture editor Katie Razzall the social media buzz is because Saltburn is a “gothic romance”.

“I think it really tunes into this emotional need we have that is quite unfulfilled — the really operatic, heightened emotion; a heightened sense of the erotic and of love and of hate,” Fennell said.

“I just think it’s something that we’ve been missing for a while.”

The bathtub scene was “so powerful because it is so sexy”, Fennell said.

Point of fact: it is absolutely not sexy and I haven’t seen anyone, Fennell aside, argue that it is.

A bad movie that is interesting in so far as we can debate how much of a misfire it is, Saltburn really deserves to go down the plughole.

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Tom Davidson

31-year-old journalist living in south westLondon trying my hand at some film writing as and when