The Menu (2022)
The Menu (2022)

Genre: Horror Comedy and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 46 min.

Release Date: November 18th, 2022 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Mark Mylod Actors: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes, Nicholas Hoult, John Leguizamo, Aimee Carrero, Janet McTeer, Judith Light, Reed Birney, Hong Chau

 


 

R

enowned chef Julian Slowik’s (Ralph Fiennes) restaurant Hawthorne caters to the wealthiest of clientele with its chic island locale, luxurious ingredients, and meticulously crafted cuisine. Each course on the menu pairs with the rarest of wines and comes complete with its own history and story, introduced by the celebrity cook himself. Many would die for a chance to dine at Hawthorne. Some may just get the chance.

When young couple Tyler Ledford (Nicholas Hoult) and Margot Mills (Anya Taylor-Joy) arrive on the remote isle for the famed multi-course dinner, they find themselves in the company of a varied swath of socialites, including a movie star (John Leguizamo) and his assistant (Aimee Carrero), a notorious food critic (Janet McTeer) and her sycophantic magazine editor (Paul Adelstein), opulent regulars (Reed Birney and Judith Light), and the raucous business cronies (Arturo Castro, Rob Yang, and Mark St. Cyr) of the restaurant’s proprietor. As the dishes produced from the kitchen escalate in complexity and grandeur, the mood of the eccentric presenter shifts from playful pretentiousness to caustic contempt for his guests. When the theatrics between plates turn hostile, Margot must attempt to outwit the tyrannical host if she hopes to leave with her life.

“The flavor profiles are all super delicate!” And they should be, at $1250 per head, catering to all manner of elites, from Wall Street types to celebrities to hoity-toity writers. Engagingly, despite the shared quality of being upper-crust and accustomed to royal treatment (there are certainly no commoners among them), the diners are rather diverse; a few are very much into the nuances of the palate, some simply enjoy the exclusiveness and the bragging rights, and at least one is entirely skeptical. “What, are we eating a Rolex?”

Despite the initial moments embracing a light, breezy, comical atmosphere, it’s impossible to dismiss the fact that the foodies are journeying to an isolated territory, joined to civilization solely by a lone boat ride. Plus, the distinct music cues creepily suggest that not everything is as it seems; violently plucked violin strings cement the notion. The chef and his staff take their job deadly serious – so much so that behaviors are cryptic, suspicious, and criminalistic; employees are ominous and menacing, even before they resort to genuine threats. The bulk of the amusement here comes from the merger of comedy and chills, though most of it is the setup and the aura; it takes far too long – seemingly two courses too many – before eccentricities transform into nightmares.

The toying and the psychological games, alternated with countless shots of exotic foodstuff (careful artistry over mere nutrients), eventually boil over into a shocking moment or two, prodding the audience to squirm with the anticipation of the visual frights to come. Yet while the film crescendos brilliantly in the middle, it fails to intensify during the finale; it actually loses steam rather quickly, speedily giving away its purpose as satire, hinting at humanity’s infatuation with power, control, obedience, invasions of privacy, greed, revenge, and attention, but mostly skewering the cavernous divide between the rich and the poor, the takers and the givers, the gentry and the proles (all of which are the timely “us versus them” theme) – tinged with sentiments of futility and helplessness. “This is just theater!”

Ultimately, “The Menu” isn’t quite as subtle as it ought to be, and it stretches out its runtime with questionable escalations in madness – including a mysterious original date who is never defined; the chef’s family and secretive domicile, which are never elaborated upon; a sportsmanlike opportunity to flee into the forest, which has no clear winners or losers or consequences; and a call for help that is both precisely orchestrated and entirely by chance, considering that a consequential radio is locked up in such a way that no one could have known for sure that it would be discovered. Several of the most uninspired, irresolute concepts tend to be those designed around horror tropes (chiefly the overly brave, excessively curious girl), which is a shame since the blend of humor and scares are what generally gives the film its edge. The more ridiculous and severe the courses and their supplements become, however, the more original and hilarious it all is (sharing similarities with “Pig,” but proving to be considerably sharper and more creative in its sarcasm, laughs, and message). Unfortunately, it carries on a bit long, without the level of payoff many might expect, even if the final dish is tremendously fitting and funny.

– The Massie Twins

  • 7/10