The Menu (2022)
It’s weird how some movies can be sold to you by your friends and colleagues.
I had vaguely heard about The Menu, and being my workplaces ‘horror guy’, I was constantly being asked if I had seen it, and if I’m honest, I resisted because I was being told how good it was by people who think The Conjuring and Insidious are horror high-points, which I do not!
I did have two people offer me advice that I did take though. One was my daughter, and considering I moulded her love of horror, I trust her opinions, and the other comment was a single sentence that should have been the tagline: Two X-men and Luigi Mario Vs Voldemort.
I’m joking of course. The Menu had actually been on my radar for a while. After the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, I had fallen in love with Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult is someone I am a fan of as well. The concept of Ralph Fiennes playing a hyper-obsessed celebrity chef also hit high on my ‘interest-o-meter’.
The film was directed by Mark Myloid, who directed episodes of Shameless and Game of Thrones, as well as the Ali G Indahouse and was written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, both of whom have a varied history working on late night and comedy shows, and the dry sense of humour and parody is certainly in full effect in this film.
The Menu tells of Tyler (Hoult) as obsessed foodie who, along with his partner, Margot (Taylor-Joy) have managed to secure a reservation at the very exclusive restaurant, Hawthorn, a restaurant on an island by executive chef, Chef Julian Slowik (Fiennes) and his staff who live on the secluded island, and forage for food in the immediate environment. Along with other guests, they make their way by boat.
Else (Hong Chau) the severe maître d’hôtel, offers all the guests a tour of the island, pointing out that Margot is not Tyler’s original guest, and questions her reasons for being on the island.
The guests take their seats and the food starts appearing, with an explanation as to its reason for existence by Chef Slowik. The food is pompous and part of the chef’s greater plan for the evening, but it is not to Margot’s taste, and her lack of respect for the dishes is intruding on Tyler’s enjoyment.
The dinner continues and is an extreme degustation, with obviously made-for-the-art-rather-than-the-taste (and also contains some scandalous revelations), but when one of the young sous-chef commits suicide as part of the spectacle of the fourth course, in front of the guests, the whole event takes a sudden, but not unexpected, left turn.
To say I was surprised by how much I liked this film is an understatement. Whilst I can’t see it being a regular rewatcher, it certainly is a film that simmers its horrific elements of obsession, murder and death with a drop of poking fun at foodies and celebrity chef culture… perhaps all sub-cultures that end up with obsessive fanbases to great effect.
The thing about being obsessive is the ritual of obsession. Most people who have an obsession receive a dopamine hit from the ritual of obtaining ‘the thing’ rather than the actual thing itself, and this film certainly delves into that, and using a meal, which is a ritual as well, with its food prep, setting of the table, sitting at ‘your’ seat, et cetera, is the perfect scenario.
The design of the film is so well thought out as everything on the island that Slowik’s restaurant sits is representative of his personality, as is the food he serves. Apparently the director kept two camera running at all times, and all the cast were on set constantly so the background constantly was an organic thing.
The direction on this film is truly remarkable. The actors seem to have been given a lot of leeway to try new things and it certainly makes for a living breathing thing, rather than a series of set pieces. So often even though he has a foreground thing happening, the actors in the background are still being effected by a previous event.
The actor all certainly rise to their roles too. Hoult and Taylor-Joy are magnificent in their roles, and as their relationship is revealed, their attitudes towards each other become more apparent. The other diners are all fabulous in their roles as well, from the bored rich wife Judith Day to the has-been actor John Leguizamo, they all sit wonderfully as ingredients in this film. Fiennes sits on top of this heap as the master of events and he truly commands every scene he is in, both as actor and character.
Special note must go to Chau as the cold Maître D Elsa, truly a revelation in her role as the dedicated acolyte of Slowik’s cult-like staff.
One other thing I found interesting about this film is that I think it is the first time I’ve seen any form of media where the pandemic was an actual trigger for some of the events in the film. Most forms of media seem to dance around it, but this sits amongst it and screams ‘ this is partially to blame’.
Time for heaps of food-based puns. This film was a feast on the eyes, and I gorged myself on the performances of the entire cast. It’s a shame more films aren’t like this as I believe we should all dine out on this sort of thing.
Seriously though, The Menu is a fantastic film and well worthy of your time.
Disc: There are two listed extras, but the first, Open Kitchen, A Look Inside The Menu, is divided into 3 ‘courses’ to keep in theme of the movie.
First Course looks at the design of the ACTUAL food for The Menu, which was designed by chef Dominique Crenn, who also, with discussions with Fiennes, co-created his character and his impulses and motivations. Kendall Gensler, a food stylist, was also present to add to the character of Slowik through the way the food looked on the plate.
Second Course looks at the design of the restaurant, including it’s uniforms, and the way the island reflects his entire vision of the restaurant. It also explores the characters and their motivations with commentary by the actors involved. It also takes a peek behind the curtain of the director’s methods so that any improvised nuances by the actors where captured. It’s an interesting, albeit short, look at the making of the entire production.
Dessert looks at the finale… DO NOT watch this before watching the film! It looks at the production design of the finale.
Deleted scenes contains 3 scenes from throughout the film. Normally I would say that a fiom is better off without the deleted scenes but these I wish were still in the film. Realistically it would have pushed the film over the 1 hour 50 minute point, but it’s only 5 minutes of extra footage, and I found them quite revealing.
This film was reviewed with the Australian release Bluray, purchased from JB Hifi.