The Menu Anya Taylor-Joy Ralph Fiennes
Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy in the film THE MENU. Photo by Eric Zachanowich. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

The Menu review – Delicious

Once in a while, us critics are affronted by someone or something that aims to critique us. When it comes to cinema, that’s high-risk high-reward play. Films that seek to confront critical discourse or those that attribute value via a rating out of ten are often undone by not having a strong-enough argument or, more commonly, don’t actually have anything to say (see the review for Don’t Worry Darling). At the same time, you can end up alienating the people who take the time to write about and describe your movie in underserved flowery language (also see Don’t Worry Darling).

The Menu is not out to get film critics, not even indirectly. What is proposed to be a thrilling and chilling tale of bad intent in the high-minded world of food turns out to be a very simple dish. Comedy, horror, charm and a sprinkle of high-minded sincerity. And even if the kitchen was set on poisoning patrons, it’s so competently cooked you’ll still eat it. This movie knows full well how good it is.

An evening of culinary exquisiteness is what awaits a group of people making their way to Hawthorne, a restaurant located on a remote island and run by celebrity chef Julian Slowik (played by Ralph Fiennes). Eager to enjoy a menu like no other, the guest list includes young Margot Mills (Anya Taylor-Joy), invited to attend by food-obsessed Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) alongside former actor George Diaz (John Leguizamo), restaurant critic Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer), all who make up part of a colourful collection of characters. The night starts off well with an amazing amuse bouche but slowly the heat is turned up. Slowick’s menu begins to devolve as his food, his “truth” as it were, is revealed to have a deadly aftertaste that his guests will never forget.

There’s not much to say about The Menu beyond the masterful execution and composition of its elements. Every ingredient here works. His first theatrical outing in more than a decade, director Mark Mylod has returned to the big screen after tending to episodes of Game of Thrones and Succession. He showcases his steady hand and an affinity with subtlety. The production could be described as isolated. A small cast in a small setting, spending most of the time commenting on the grub placed in front of them. Mylod consistently keeps the focus on those characters. He puts the dialogue front and centre while also expertly emphasising the fact that this whole ordeal is about to sour.

And why wouldn’t he? The Menu boasts an impeccable cast. While still harbouring the mannerisms that propelled her and The Queen’s Gambit, Anya Taylor-Joy is a delight. Her character is not of this world, not impressed by meagre yet detailed handfuls of caviar and who, as the night goes on, is confronted by the conflict between creator and consumer. Nicholas Hoult is at his most unlikable and is excellent. Tyler starts out frustrating and from there descends to the point of inciting fury in us. At the head of the table sits Fiennes, supplying substantial portions of intensity while also working hard to reinforce Slowik’s rationale.

Said rationale is rooted deep in the ideas of food and what we look to enjoy or appreciate with food. It’s rooted so deep that at some junctions the whole production leans into absurdity while also retaining a simple yet effective message. Samuel Beckett would be roaring with laughter as is the audience. With the absurdity comes hilarity as the film extends above its horror foundations and with the help of very good dialogue, gives off a garnishing of surprising black comedy.

There are little to no problems to be had with The Menu. It may not be to everyone’s taste. The first act is defined by the suspense and while the film does show its hand early in terms of the lemon twist, the buildup can at times feel like a drag. It also feels like it’s restraining itself. You can tell Fiennes and Mylod could have turned the heat up on the absurdity but it would have come at the cost of its sincerity. The film has a message and it leaves you thinking. It also leaves you feeling hungry. And as a killshot on the critics, The Menu leaves you feeling full.

The Menu is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

Image credit: Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

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