REVIEW: THE MENU
Release Date: 18h November 2022
Directed by: Mark Mylod
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau
Screenplay by: Seth Reiss, Will Tracy
Cinematography: Peter Deming
``nothing beats a cheeseburger``
Directed by Succession’s Mark Mylod, The Menu is a satirical thriller with elements of horror. It is about a group of super-rich haute cuisine groupies who have all paid an extortionate amount of money for a table at Hawthorn, an incredibly exclusive Michelin-starred restaurant, located on its own private island. Ralph Fiennes plays the Hawthorn’s intimidating and reclusive head chef, Julian Slowik, and as the courses of the tasting menu get weirder and weirder, it becomes apparent that Slowik has something more malevolent in mind than sending the diners home with a gift bag.
Part Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, part Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, The Menu is terrific. Haute Cuisine and the ridiculous obsession with conspicuous wealth is a very easy target for satire. But while The Menu starts out as a send-up of the pretentiousness and stupidity of tasting menus and the cult of celebrity chefs, by a certain point Slowik’s rationale doesn’t seem so outlandish.
After the guests arrive on the private island, they’re lead into a very austere concrete bunker and the doors are locked. Obviously, this is the set-up of a horror movie, and there are elements of horror peppered throughout. But The Menu is more of a thriller, and quite a good one at that. Granted, it’s not difficult to make out the broad strokes of where this is all going, but there are some little details and developments along the way that are unexpected. It’s also very funny, with a very dry, black humour.
In the role of Slowik, Fiennes is very controlled, very intense, and very funny. He has an aptitude for comedy, as demonstrated in The Grand Budapest Hotel and In Bruges, although he doesn’t get the chance to show off his funny bones very often. Here, he is the epitome of controlled disdain and borderline malevolence. But The Menu is not just the Ralph Fiennes show. It’s an ensemble piece with some incredible character actors such as John Leguizamo and Reed Birney, alongside younger talent.
Nicholas Hoult plays a Slowik superfan who hangs on his every word and rhapsodises over every wispy morsel of foam and froth that arrives on his plate, and the ubiquitous Anya Taylor-Joy is his last minute replacement date who throws a spanner in the works. With a kitchen filled with Slowik’s disciples and the restaurant filled with his acolytes, she is the sole sceptic. Hers is the sole voice of reason, describing Hawthorn as “The base camp of Mount Bullshit”. Taylor-Joy is the sole character willing to push back and to call out the pretentiousness of the whole enterprise.
The set-up works a lot better than the ultimate pay off, and the final act definitely has some issues that should have been ironed out. But the set-up and middle act are tremendous, and it’s easy to overlook some of the clumsier elements of the final act.
Ultimately, nothing beats a cheese burger.