School ties: Barry Keoghan as Oliver Quick in ‘Saltburn’.
SALTBURN *** (131 minutes) MA
Think Brideshead Revisited-lite meets The Talented Mr Ripley and you’ve more or less got Saltburn, a dark, debauched adult mystery that serves up a delicious, depraved treat that manages to keep you guessing about what’s going on in the head of its rather nasty central character.
Set around 2006 awkward Oxford University student Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) is drawn into the orbit of the handsome Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), who invites him to holiday with his very wealthy family at his sprawling country estate.
This turns out to be a questionable move as Oliver becomes intrigued by the Catton family, which includes Felix’s quasi-alcoholic mother Elsbeth (Rosamund Pike), his prim, semi-idiotic father James (Richard E. Grant) and loopy sister Venetia (Alison Oliver).
Most of all, Oliver has a strong liking for Felix, especially while watching him pleasure himself in the bath, an activity that rouses Oliver’s homosexual desires alongside his heterosexual impulses.
There’s a lot going on with this oddball, not the least of which is his morally flexible approach to the truth.
Thanks to Keoghan’s subdued, slimy performance, Oliver is a challenge to warm to as he enmeshes himself in the clan of upper-class eccentrics, digging into their personal affairs and under their skin.
Written and directed by Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman), Saltburn unspools as a satisfying, slow-burn mystery with dashes of pitch dark humour, though it is pitted with some annoying story flubs.
The worst is how irrelevant the presence of Oxford becomes, and how Felix’s father proves to be more ineffectual and insipid a toff than the human mind can comfortably stand. He is somehow able to walk upright even though he appears to have no backbone.
Still, it all comes good in the end with a killer payoff that reveals the dark backstory to the film’s well-engineered shock moments.
THANKSGIVING *** (106 minutes) R18+
There’s loads of fun to be had with Thanksgiving, a horror-comedy offering from slashmeister Eli Roth (Hostel; Cabin Fever) that blends laughs with lots of excessive gore that briefly crosses the line into outright vileness, pretty much like Roth did in Hostel II.
The film opens with a delightful tone-setting event as a Thanksgiving Black Friday sale goes south as waiting shoppers respond to taunts from queue jumpers inside the store by crashing the front windows and running riot among the pyramids of bargains, turning the sale into a bloodbath.
One calendar year later as people revisit the mayhem online, a mysterious masked figure turns up in town and begins erasing those deemed responsible, dispatching each with increasingly messy methods.
Heading a typically young cast (including TikTok queen Addison Rae), Patrick Dempsey (aka McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy) plays the sheriff racing to find the fiend before the next victim turns up as a livestream.
Aimed squarely at genre fans who love the sight of movie blood gushing forth from dismembered body parts, Thanksgiving is another slice of quality horror, which we’ve been getting plenty of lately. And like many good horror films, it revels in practical effects rather than digital.
Fans of Roth’s work will note the presence of Rick Hoffman who, though best known for the TV show Suits, had small but memorable roles in Hostel and Hostel 2. Makes you feel all warm inside when you see stuff like that.
THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS & SNAKES ** (157 minutes) M
As if the pile of mediocre multiplex studio epics wasn’t huge enough, we now have The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes to add to the clutter.
Taking place around 60 years before the events of the original four films this half-hearted effort runs an unjustifiable two-and-a-half hours – Hollywood, please, get back to decent running times! – and offers a host of very unexciting action scenes and a totally uninteresting performance from Rachel Zegler, who spends too much screen time singing and hiding.
Given how the film is an attempt to reboot the Hunger Games franchise – which took about $3 billion between 2012-15 – it’s a surprisingly inert adventure, drably directed by Francis Lawrence, who made the three HG sequels.
Focusing on the rise of Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), who later becomes leader of Panem, it’s a long, slow, expensive-looking haul so light on ideas it raises the legitimate question: do we really need more Hunger Games? Really?
Another question the film raises – is Rachel Zegler still a thing?
So good in the remake of West Side Story she has comprehensively blotted her copy book with the Snow White debacle.
As everyone knows by now, Zegler roused a tsunami of online anger by dissing the romance of the 1937 original in favour of her woke remake that casts her version of Snow White as a girlboss who doesn’t need a man.
So harsh was the backlash that Disney – which has had a bad enough year with woke content being blamed for the “under performance” of films such as The Little Mermaid, Strange World, Elemental, Lightyear and The Marvels – have reworked the film.
Gone is the diversity cast of dwarfs, replaced now with seven CGI dwarfs more closely resembling the original ones.
That’s a costly repair job for the damage causes by Zegler, whose few seconds of interview time have been spliced into many clips and memes, most stressing her coining of the phrase “weird weird”.
Consequently, Zegler’s presence in HG:TBOS&S could prove to be a liability given how disliked she has become over her Snow White comments – comments that some decent media training could have kept from ever being uttered.
THE KILLER *** (118 minutes) MA
Never to go after somebody’s family. That’s the simple rule any smart movie criminal knows to abide by. Yet that’s the big flub committed in The Killer against a professional assassin (Michael Fassbender).
He messes up on the job, which deserves a sternly worded email, sure. But when his employers hassle his loved ones, well, it’s time for payback.
Fassbender puts in a straight, steely-eyed performance as he goes through his death list, with director David Fincher (Se7en; Fight Club; The Social Network; Gone Girl) giving the straightforward crime drama some strong doses of noir style, especially as the killer gets down to the dirty work.
Not one for the squeamish, the film features a terrific cameo from Tilda Swinton who chimes in with a very memorable moment as she prepares to meet her maker.
QUIZ LADY *** (100 minutes) M
This breezy, energetic sibling comedy lark will bring smiles aplenty as Anne (Awkwafina), a game show-obsessed office nerd, is persuaded by her desperately flamboyant sister Jenny (Sandra Oh) to go on the show as a contestant.
They need money to pay off the low-flying gangster who has taken Anne’s dog hostage until her mother’s debt is paid.
Things move quickly in this brisk, well-rounded, very funny jaunt that is smart enough to deliver a handful of scenes amidst all the antics that give the high jinks a touch of character depth.
Will Ferrell (also a producer) is fab as the long-running host of the show, and his moment with Anne gives the piece a lovely hint of grace.