Dean’s pick of the month

January 2024’s pick.

Satan’s details.

The more I work on my latest novel (the 3rd book in the Terra Drake trilogy where I have created a demonic villain who represents everything that each of us, as well as collectively, can possibly face) the more I take notice of the phrase, “The devil is in the details.” 

Ironically, “God is in the details’ preceded the devil’s bid. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s God or Satan when it comes to detail work: each entity has the same goal in mind even though they are exact opposites. 

The more I create the characters of evil that push us to either surrender or fight, the more I realize the importance of covering every base. I’ve chosen to discuss the film “Saltburn” as my first blog of the new year for this exact reason. 

Written and directed by Emerald Fennell, “Saltburn” stars Barry Keaghan in an overpowering as well as overwhelming performance. He takes every frame and chews it to pieces while creating a villain who is as terrifying as he is alluring. 

Keaghan plays Oliver Quick, a brilliant college student at Oxford University where he tries to fit in with the elites who run the place. At the top of the elitists’ pyramid is Felix Cotton (played by Jacob Elordi) who Oliver is enamored with at first sight. Felix is the dashing as well as dastardly type who everyone wants to coddle or face the consequences. 

Felix quickly decides to take Oliver as his next “project” inviting him to his family’s estate, Saltburn, for the summer. An historical estate where kings have lived and where Shakespeare’s folios reside in the library, Fannell sets the stage for endless hedonism. 

It’s from the moment when Oliver walks into the estate’s fabulous entryway that Keaghan’s performance goes effortlessly into a full-throttle hell ride through the darkest places of the soul. Every scene is a twisted turn of excess where Oliver takes Felix’s and his royal family’s soul and shreds it.

This is a disturbingly visceral experience where the details of evil are bloody slashes of sexuality, betrayal, murder, revenge, anger, seduction, control and power: all on full display. While Keaghan dominates throughout, there are also fine performances by Rosamund Pike as Felix’s mother and Carey Mulligan as his goth sister. 

Clearly, “Saltburn” is not for everyone. Where it never fails is the constant discomfort and unease; a perpetual threat. Evil exists with a direct purpose just as righteousness does. Evil is not just a term that’s tossed around as much as racism to where it no longer has any meaning. Yet if Satan himself is behind the term, then stripping its meaning is the perfect plan. What pleases the devil most is taking every detail and facet of what’s ugly and vile and turning it into everything that looks and feels correct, proper, and orthodox. 

If it’s the real diabolical you’re after, Fennell’s direction and Keaghan’s performance will tap every nerve ending until it aches long after the credits stop rolling. It is exactly my own purpose with this next novel due out this fall.

Enjoy, my fine readers, and welcome to the bloody ride. 


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