The Menu – Review

The Menu Director Mark Mylod is no stranger to poking fun at the entitlement and bad behaviour of the rich. You only have to watch a few episodes of his TV show, Succession, to know that he wants to be both intrigued and repelled. In The Menu, he takes us into the hyperbolic world of exclusive fine dining, with all the secrecy and showmanship that it entails. Written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracey, the film blends satire and horror; ensemble drama and single location thriller.

Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) has brought his girlfriend, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) to an island, where they will be sampling the delights of the tasting menu at Hawthorne’s. Margot is not interested in food at all, whereas Tyler is all out to prove that he can identify every texture; every flavour. After all, seats at this particular table are extremely rare. They are joined by ten other diners, including a fading film star (John Leguizamo), a food critic (Janet McTeer), obnoxious Wall Street dudes and an older couple who seem to dine on the island regularly. But, as each course progresses, it is clear that they are all on the island for a reason.

The film is divided into courses, from amuse-bouche to dessert. And, with each course, the film takes an ever more disturbing turn. Although the trailer definitely gives too much away, what’s fun about The Menu is seeing who believes what. Some diners believe the bloody violence to be nothing more than “theatre”; others are eyeing the heavily guarded exits.

At the heart of it all is a truly brilliant performance from Ralph Fiennes as executive chef, Julian Slowik. He positively seeps through the kitchen – like an “unsplit” emulsion – making his presence felt without ever having to say too much. You can feel his burning gaze on the diners as they taste his food. He gives haughty speeches on historical reference points for his food. A thunderous clap of his hands brings the entire place to a jolting standstill. Fiennes doesn’t give too much away, initially, so you are scanning every inch of his face and his gestures to work out what Slowik really wants. It’s an excellent, layered performance.

Anya Taylor-Joy, too, demands focus as the bold, uninterested Margot. She’s not afraid of telling the truth, whether that is to Slowik himself or her arrogant date for the night. Her character development is perhaps one of the most developed. Nicholas Hoult is thoroughly unlikeable as Tyler. We all know an annoying foodie who gets “hints of bergamot” from everything, but Hoult really turns the dial up on his character, with striking effect. Hong Chau offers aloof, composed front of house service in her character Elsa – a woman who just about gets away with sarcastic comments to diners and has no doubt heard every ridiculous demand in the book throughout her career. We feel her weariness; her carefully concealed disgust.

Rather than taking cheap shots at these arrogant diners, the script allows for a real sense of unease to creep in. Owing to the setup of the restaurant, we very often hear just snippets of conversation. Diners either being their true selves – in which case, we get to loathe their attitudes to just about everything – or hushed panic about the events as they unfold. There’s also tension between every individual set of diners, which adds to the air of hostility. In gifting Slowik his speeches before each course which, on the surface, seems like more pretentiousness from the executive chef, we actually get biting satire on the nouveau riche. This definitely feels like class commentary and, in particular, commentary on what it’s like to be in the service industry.

As the tasting menu – and the film – works its way towards dessert, horror upon horror awaits the diners. Not only are their secrets exposed like a stain on white table linen, but their actions have real (and sometimes deadly) consequences. You may well find yourself holding your breath as the next “target” is revealed. There are a couple of truly shocking moments that make you wonder just how grubby, how awful these people were to deserve such a fate. Yet you may also find an escape of nervous laughter, particularly as the origins of the Taco Tuesday course are revealed. It’s this blend of uneasy humour and outright violence that keeps you on edge.

However, it does feel like the film ends a little suddenly. Slowik asserts that his menu is designed to leave you neither too full nor wanting more. But this Menu definitely leaves you wanting a few more bites. It concludes rather suddenly – albeit in a spectacular way – which does leave you thinking you’ve missed a course or two.

The Menu makes the most of its cast and of its location to deliver a thoroughly interesting ensemble thriller. The performances bring this murderous satire to life, perhaps even covering up a few bumps in the plot along the way. Mark Mylod clearly knows how to revel in the dirt, as it were, and this latest effort is every bit as shocking and stinging as fans of Succession could hope for. Whilst there are a couple of issues with how the film wraps up, overall this is a well-executed mockery of pretension and privilege.

The Menu is now showing in cinemas.

Mary Munoz
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