Sunday, July 14, 2024

The latest from Emerald Fennell, who stirred things up with “Promising Young Woman” (2020), is a slow burn of a psychological thriller with hot, homoerotic embers – à la “The Talented Mr. Ripley” – that catch fire every now and then. It’s also the second film this year in which Mother Nature’s cyclical purge of fertility during an act of oral pleasure plays for bloody spectacle – the other being Chloe Domont’s “Fair Play,” streaming on Netflix. There’s much about class and privilege in this dark semi-comedy starring Barry Keoghan, tripling down on strange doings after “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017) and “The Green Knight” (2021) as a poor student at Oxford who can’t afford school attire but syncs up with the “it” boy Felix (Jacob Elordi, who’s had a banner year with this arresting performance as Elvis in “Priscilla”; Timothy Chalamet, you’ve got competition!). 

Felix lives in the glorious British estate of the film’s title – a real-life keep that’s not far off from Balmoral or the Palace at Versailles – and invites Keoghan’s Oliver Quick (what a name) back to the estate for summer break. At first Oliver seems in awe of Felix’s family (Rosamund Pike and Richard E. Grant, dutiful as the parents, and Alison Oliver as their capricious and observant daughter), but then there are late-night doings by the pond and a “Shining”-like maze. As Oliver starts to shed his skin, matters shift to sexual knowing, station-in-life resentments, reveals and ensuing grim events.

It’s an ambitious go for Fennell, well framed and well acted (Carey Mulligan, who headlined “Promising Young Woman,” is in it for a blip, and piquantly hard to glean), but as the saga moves toward the third act, things turn hyperbolic and unbelievable, edging on the inane. There is a bit of a reprieve before the denouement that snaps you back in, but that herky-jerkiness is undeniable. The film will only add to Keoghan’s rise in creepy sociopathic appeal, though, and Fennell will again have art house audiences eager to see what she does next.

Cambridge writer Tom Meek’s reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.