Yes, there had to be a food pun in my title. But The Menu is truly a delicious full meal (I apologize in advance. There will be food puns peppered into this review–oh, and there’s another one). And I’ll be the first to admit that I had little expectations of it. The movie looked OK from the teaser trailer I kept seeing with every film I would see in a cinema, but it didn’t hold my attention. However, Mark Mylod is an exciting filmmaker, going from Ali G Indahouse to Succession, and the inclusion of cinematographer Peter Deming is undoubtedly exciting. You’ve also got a great cast: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, John Leguizamo, Janet McTeer, Reed Birney, Hong Chau, and Mark St. Cyr (who you may know as Mr. Mazzara from High School Musical: The Musical: The Series). But I didn’t know what it was about–it was clear that the chef had some hidden agenda and that the titular menu would be dark, but the trailer felt too vague for me to go, “man, I want to see this.”
I want to slap this version of myself in the face because The Menu is incredible and is best experienced by reading absolutely nothing (even this review that will be as spoiler-free as possible) and watching no trailers and clips beforehand. I’m sure the latest promotional material is intentionally vague (I haven’t seen any of them) to prevent you from knowing what Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) has in mind for his guests, who are all of some high class or stature. The Menu is meticulously crafted since Slowik is a fan of molecular gastronomy. However, by its third course, guests become a little more uncomfortable as Slowik’s plan unravels.
And then the movie takes a significant turn that I won’t dare spoil but is as enthralling as the massive 180 turn director Zach Cregger did in Barbarian. Of course, The Menu is a vastly different movie, but its execution is as brilliant as Barbarian in the sense that whatever little expectations you have about the film, throw them out of the window because Mylod and screenwriters Seith Reiss and Will Tracy find new ways to enthrall viewers as more revelations on Slowik and the guests come to light through his elaborate menu. Some may not like how dark it gets, but the movie consistently balances its dark tone (and gloomy score from Colin Stetson, who remains an absolute force when composing scores for a horror film) with a subtle yet sick sense of humor that makes us naturally, though uncomfortably, laugh at the situations the characters are stuck in. Yes, The Menu is one of the funniest films of the year, even if the premise itself isn’t, and the characters have substantial emotional baggage throughout the film.
As Slowik, Ralph Fiennes delivers a masterful performance and proves, once again, why he’s one of the best actors working today. Every time he claps to introduce a new dish, a certain tension starts to mount as he speaks softly in front of his guests to describe what they’re about to eat (or experience). However, he’s always in complete control of the situation, even if he sometimes appears powerless at the guest’s desire to leave the restaurant. The first one who dares call out Slowik is Margot Mills (Anya Taylor-Joy), who goes to his restaurant with Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), a massive fan of the chef and the way he constructs his food. Taylor-Joy and Fiennes have impeccable chemistry during their scenes, and there’s a sense of unease every time Slowik looks at Margot because she isn’t supposed to be here.
Every awards pundit has told me how terrific Hong Chau is in The Whale (a movie I have yet to see but am very much looking forward to), but she is a show-stealer in The Menu as Elsa, the restaurant hostess. Of course, the less said about her character, the better, but there’s a great scene in which she argues with a customer on a “breadless bread plate” that sets the stage for how off the rails the evening will get. While other performers have less screen time than Taylor-Joy, Fiennes, and Chau, they make the most of their roles, especially John Leguizamo and Reed Birney, who are involved in two of the film’s darkest and most surprising scenes.
The Menu is also beautifully shot and composed by cinematographer Peter Deming, who presents every dish (as sick as they are) with impeccable elegance, even if the evening turns sour (heh) and the tension starts to build up. Nevertheless, he remains as elegant as possible because that’s the way Chef Slowik would like this evening to be seen, even if the guests are [clearly] not enjoying themselves.
As I mentioned, the less said (and known) about the movie, the more you’ll enjoy The Menu. Its razor-sharp script deftly balances pitch-perfect dark humor with an enthralling premise, while Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Hong Chau give masterful performances. It may not be a menu I’d like to eat, but it’s certainly one I enjoyed watching, and I hope many will too. Now time to review it on Yelp.
The Menu will be released in theatres on November 18.