“The Menu” was directed by Mark Mylod and stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes, and Nicholas Hoult. This satirical horror-thriller follows a group of elites (food critics, Wall Street types, actors, pretentious foodies, etc.) invited to the private island of renowned chef Julian Slowik (Fiennes) to experience his new, much anticipated menu. However, they’re in for a rude awakening as Chef Slowik’s menu becomes increasingly diabolical.
This film excels at poking fun at today’s self-obsessed culture and people in high societal positions. They care so much about preserving their power or perceived social awareness that they’ll be so foolish as to think that a rock on a plate or a breadless bread dish are powerful statements about the environment or humanity. They all feel pressure to share the same trendy beliefs and philosophies. Ultimately, “The Menu” shines a light on the dangers of pretentiousness and self-importance in society using its over-the-top premise and witty humor.
Speaking of which, “The Menu” is hilarious. The absurdity of the characters, particularly the two food critics who could find meaning in a damp sock, is priceless. A great running gag is when the film cuts away to a shot presenting each new menu item with the ingredients on the side. If the audience isn’t paying enough attention, they’ll miss the best jokes of the film. With just a single line, phrase, or word, the entire context of the meal will change as the viewers burst out laughing.
The humor and timeliness of the film owes a lot to director Mark Mylod’s focused vision. With his experience on HBO’s “Succession,” he understands how to portray snooty, upper-class figures in a way that’s profound without preaching to the audience. Mylod perfectly balances the absurdity, realism, and later horrors of the film. It’s an extremely impressive feature film debut, and I’m ecstatic to see his future projects.
The performances here are also terrific. The ensemble cast of elites all have impeccable comedic timing and can balance the cartoonish natures of their characters while also being sympathetic and grounded. Nicholas Hoult in particular nails the self-importance and superficial nature of his character, playing every joke super straight as if he’s in “Airplane!.”
Hoult’s character is accompanied by his date Margot, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. Margot is a cynic and outsider to the group, immediately suspicious of Chef Slowik. Essentially, she’s the “final girl” in your typical horror movie. On the page, Margot is sort of a bland, generic character with nothing but a snarky wit, but Taylor-Joy brings the needed gravitas and charisma to make Margot likable and easy to root for.
Yet to no one’s surprise, Ralph Fiennes is the scene-stealer as Chef Slowik. He portrays the character with almost childlike sensibilities along with a cold, calm, and collected demeanor. He says so much without any words, particularly with his eyes. Fiennes employs several different gazes for different purposes such as intimidation, innocence, and levity. Fiennes is just so unsettling whenever he’s on screen, giving an Oscar-worthy performance that’s just as unpredictable as the script. Plus, he makes clapping the most frightening sound imaginable.
Unfortunately, “The Menu” does have some issues. For instance, there are several scenes in the second half of the film when guests aren’t nearly as frightened as they should be. I understand this is a dark comedy, but there still needs to be weighty stakes. These “fear levels” are also inconsistent throughout the film; at one point a character will be sobbing and ten minutes later they’ll appear almost bored.
There are also some minor plot contrivances and conveniences here, especially Margot’s relationships with a few other characters and the astronomical odds of them encountering each other. Additionally, there’s an exposition dump toward the end of the film in which Slowik talks at the audience about the backstory of another character. It’s not as bad as “This is Katana. She’s got my back. I would advise not getting killed by her. Her sword traps the souls of its victims” from 2016’s “Suicide Squad,” but it’s pretty jarring nonetheless.
Despite some plot conveniences and inconsistencies, “The Menu” is an entertaining ride that perfectly captures the insanity of modern culture with impeccable performances, sharp humor, and an unpredictable narrative.