Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult have a dining experience from hell in Mark Mylod’s deliciously wicked The Menu.
Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite conquered the narrative of calling out and ultimately destroying privilege that Hollywood has since grown very fond of. Mark Mylod’s film seems to owe a lot of its gleeful arrogance to Parasite, but Mylod really takes the ‘eat the rich’ narrative to a whole new level.
Nicholas Hoult and Anya Taylor-Joy play a couple about to attend a lavish restaurant experience on an island. They are given a tour of the property and escorted to their table by Elsa (Hong Chau) before lauded Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) serves them an intricately designed and composed meal that’ll change their lives forever.
Describing The Menu as a horror film seems reductive and incorrect. It’s certainly horrifying, but it’s by no means scary. The Menu is, however, thrilling, flashy and entertaining. The film doesn’t say anything new or exciting about its themes; privilege is bad when abused, and people are despicable.
Thankfully, Mylod goes about it in a deliciously exciting way. There is a strong sense of unease from the start, and Mylod’s film stacks and intertwines the film’s mysteries fluidly. None of them are particularly clever or original, but Mylod has a way of making you not care about whether or not The Menu is groundbreaking. You’re too entertained to notice that what you’re watching is bang-average in writing and plot. For the record, this is not a criticism. It’s a strength, and more films should follow suit.
As expected, Ralph Fiennes commands the screen whenever he’s lurking around or directly addressing his guests. His unnerving calmness is effective and starkly contrasted with the rising panic among the poor diners. He crafts Chef Slowik into an uncompromising, cruel artist who is completely devoted to their craft, with horrifying consequences.
On the other side of the dining room, Anya Taylor-Joy provides fierce resistance against Fiennes. Her performance is assured and layered. Mylod tries to build her as a mysterious outsider, but it doesn’t take much to guess her deal. Much more interesting is Chau’s Elsa, a devoted servant to Chef Slowik. Chau, so compelling in The Whale, is equally great here with an unwavering performance that surprisingly goes from terrifying to quite moving.
Nicholas Hoult is a particular highlight in The Menu, playing a slight variation of the fool he plays so well in The Great. Hoult brings a lot of humour into the film to balance the sense of doom, and his performance is perhaps the best of the lot.
Jane McTeer’s food critic is memorable, if slightly over the top, while John Leguizamo chews the scenery as an ageing actor. But The Menu is a film of and about excessiveness; everything here is heightened and on the nose, by design. The food is as pretentious as the guests eating it.
Where The Menu slightly holds back is the gore. This is a very violent film, and while Mylod certainly provides some wonderful spectacle, The Menu is nowhere near as outrageous as it could have been and arguably should have been. The ending is appropriately grim but also surprisingly silly in the best possible way.
Peter Deming’s cinematography and Christopher Tellefsen’s editing form a fluent visual form for the film. The film is excellently presented, sharp, clean and precise, and nothing is amiss. Every shot here is perfectly composed, much like Chef Slowik’s dishes. It fits the theme, but it often makes for slightly unappealing filmmaking.
Mylod’s film is almost constantly cold. It’s impressively cast and acted, but ultimately, it leaves you with nothing to take away. The Menu is mostly empty fun; not profound or clever enough to be truly memorable, but constantly a good time and ripe for rewatches.
The Menu is in cinemas November 18.