A satire surrounding the wealthy, faux celebrities, foodies and their misplaced importance, or chefs with a God complex seems far too easy to execute for a mock artist. For director Mark Mylod (What’s Your Number, TV’s Succession) and screenwriters Seth Reiss (TV’s Late Night with Seth Meyers) and Will Tracy (TV’s Succession) it’s low-hanging fruit that they slice with wicked precision in The Menu, an eat-the-rich black comedy that’s prepared and plated to near-perfection.
Assembling a selection of well-off types who don’t know the value of money and, if we had our way, would immediately be on the literal chopping block, Mylod sets his group on a secluded island to dine at the famed Hawthorne, a farm-to-table restaurant that has a certain gothic charm (and a horror-ready dry-ageing meat shed) and only allows a select number of diners.
Overseeing the kitchen in a fashion not unlike a cult leader is Slowik (Ralph Fiennes, clearly enjoying himself), who informs his guests – which include the likes of a declining film star (John Leguizamo), a pretentious food critic (Janet McTeer), and a trio of dude-bros in the tech field (Rob Yang, Arturo Castro and Mark St. Cyr) – that the evening’s edibles will be a meticulously crafted culinary banquet that speaks specifically to their personalities. To Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), however, the idea of a breadless bread-dish and foam plates sounds excruciatingly ostentatious, and it’s her evident lack of interest that puts Slowik somewhat on edge as he quickly realises her presence at the dinner was never intended; we learn she’s a last-minute date for the petulant Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), an entirely insufferable foodie who so desperately hopes his apparent knowledge of food will be enough to garner considerable notice throughout the evening.
When seated at Hawthorne – the diners run to a meticulous schedule overseen by the dry, unsettling humour of Elsa (Hong Chau, hopefully a name we’ll see rampant in the supporting field come award season) – it isn’t long before Slowik’s sinister nature and the narrative around his menu choices come to light. What that means for his gradually unnerved patrons is best left discovered when viewing; but, let’s just say, Mylod’s unhinged comedy is to the restaurant trade what Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler was to video journalism.
To call Slowik the villain of The Menu is too easy, though he certainly performs actions in line with such a moniker, but as he makes the most sound points throughout – it can’t be noted enough how grand Fiennes is in the role – the film points the archetype of the antagonist back on the viewer, which furthers the film’s uncomfortable nature as, even in such a heightened setting, it cooks (pun intended) grains of truth, resulting in a thrilling dish that delights in its relatable, commentative nature.
A film that owns its pretentiousness and is best served to patrons unaware of what they’re about to ingest, The Menu is a dark, twisted delight enhanced by the first-class sparring between Fiennes and Taylor-Joy; their dissension consistently complimenting the unpredictable script and the film’s gloriously disquieting nature – something that an unrefined palate may send back, but those with true taste with relish and demand seconds of.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Menu is screening in Australian theatres from November 24th, 2022, following select advance screenings November 18th – 20th.