Saltburn director Emerald Fennell: ‘I feel like an outsider. Doesn’t everyone?’

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Saltburn director Emerald Fennell: ‘I feel like an outsider. Doesn’t everyone?’


What I love about Promising Young Women and also this film is its dark, twisted quality. Often, you’re compared to male directors and artists who shared these qualities, like Bret Easton Ellis and Roald Dahl – I know that you personally identify with Alfred Hitchcock as well. What do you think that a more female perspective has to offer to these darker narratives?

That’s so interesting, as I think of the Gothic as actually being an inherently female thing, like the Bronte sisters and Hilary Mantel and Patricia Highsmith [author of The Talented Mr Ripley book]. I think there’s a dark, specifically female thing as well. Because when you’re writing about sex and power, those things are experienced differently if you’re a woman. The writers and filmmakers that I love the most tend to write or make things that are very, very dark, but in a very beautiful way. Sofia Coppola is a great example of the modern American Gothic. There’s no one darker, but everything she makes is so tactile, beautiful and alluring that the darkness is like a knife wrapped in satin. The women that I admire are working in those super dark places.

What about violence? I personally find it difficult to see a lot of blood and gore on screen, but in Saltburn, even though there’s violence, there’s a restrained, artful quality about it. What would you say your boundaries are with portraying onscreen violence?

I don’t have any boundaries, I don’t think. When it comes to anything, it’s always about what your purpose is. It’s never about the thing itself, rather, what’s the purpose of doing this thing or showing this thing. In Promising Young Woman, the awful thing that happened to Nina is never shown, it’s only heard. And I think it’s so devastating. I would never want to show something like that. And it would never have felt right. But then sometimes it’s necessary to see the violence, in the same way nudity can be used in necessary ways and unnecessary ways. It’s always why, rather than what. It’s ‘Why is this going to be the best way of showing this feeling?’ I personally don’t think that there should be anything that’s off bounds. It’s just about whether it’s justifiable. It’s about the purpose of this film, whatever it is. For instance, in Saltburn, there’s Barry Keoghan’s nude dance to Murder on the Dancefloor, which I worked on with an amazing editor, Victoria Boydell. It’s something so joyful, post-coital, euphoric and camp – all of the things that song is. I don’t mind feeling uncomfortable or rather I do mind it, but I’m interested in it. I don’t mind making somebody deeply uncomfortable. That’s a exposing thing.

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