Directed by Mark Mylod of Succession fame, and produced by Oscar-winning Adam McKay, The Menu functions as a seething critique of pompous gourmet culture that pervades the realm of haute cuisine.
The black comedy horror film follows a young couple - Nicholas Hoult’s Tyler, an over-eager food enthusiast and Anya Taylor-Joy’s, Margot, his unamused date for the night - as they travel to a remote island to eat at an exclusive restaurant. The restaurant, run by a celebrity chef, has prepared a lavish molecular gastronomy menu where food is treated as conceptual art, but his approach to cuisine has some shocking surprises for the wealthy guests.
(Spoilers ahead. Read on if you have watched The Menu, or do not plan on watching it)
Among the remaining handful of guests that are invited for the evening’s fine dining experience, is a motley crew of the creamy upper-class layer, including, a pretentious food critic with her kiss-ass editor, old, white dysfunctional couple, a bunch of stock market frat boys and a washed out movie-star with his frustrated assistant.
The Menu is crafted in layers, a figurative seven-course meal if you please. As the dinner service commences, the guests are greeted with a number of intricately planned courses, each preceded by a resounding clap and subsequent lecture by the head chef Julian Slowik, played by the fantastic Ralph Fiennes.
While each course is given a Masterchef-like cinematic introduction, Slowik takes a moment to add greater depth to the story behind each carefully designed plate of food. As the head-chef stands in his pearly whites, an austere look aface, he promises his wealthy patrons a culinary journey involving “fat, salt, sugar, protein, bacteria, fungi, various plants and animals and even entire ecosystems”, though he has but one request…
With each passing course, the quantities of food get obnoxiously reduced (a la ‘breadless bread plate’), but the context behind each dish turn increasingly ominous.
Slowik, a failing genius who’s craft is being rendered redundant, embodies the spirit of the service industry. His perception of the guests at his restaurant as the group of entitled philistines that have sunk his dreams and ambitions, is what fuels the gastronomic carnage to follow.
Be it the bergamot-detecting Slowik fanatic, the food critic who’s frustratingly inflated vocabulary has been the cause of many a food joint to shut shop, or perhaps the funniest of the lot, the sunken actor who’s last corny film ruined the head-chef’s first real break in ages; all serve as pawns to Slowik’s grand scheme.
As the night progresses and bodies begin to flop to the ground, one thing is made certain: nobody is getting out alive. And with that, conscious or not, Slowik lifts the veil of pretension that envelops its privileged guests, as all of them spill the beans on their secrets in regrets while faced with the prospects of certain death.
Anya Taylor-Joy’s Margot, who is soon revealed to be a sex worker hired as a fill in for Tyler’s originall date, seems to be the only cog in the works for Slowik’s big send-off. As the only person at the restaurant who would rather be elsewhere eating a cheeseburger, she garners a level of camaraderie with Slowik, who empathises with her situation, one service person to another.
The very same resourcefulness is what breaks Margot out of this hostage situation, as she happens to be the only one of the lot to muster up the courage to speak out against Slowik’s food, branding his painstakingly thought-out dishes as loveless. She hits a raw nerve in Slowik’s ego, demanding a cheeseburger as an alternative.
For all the flashy preparation and plating the film embellished the many courses with, there’s something so endearing and intimate with how Slowik pours all his heart and soul into personally making the burger - the first real piece of food in the film that looks heartfelt and delicious. And it just so happens to be Margot’s figurative get-out-of-jail-free card.
As Hereditary composer, Colin Stetson’s euphoric hymns beautifully build to a crescendo, we reach dessert - the closing act in Slowik’s culinary stage tragedy. Some gorgeous production design (or should I say plating) draws the evening’s fatal fine dining escapade to a tear-jerking close.
As Slowik sermonises on the socio-cultural significance over the concluding course in his menu, the film reaches a satisfying campfire climax. For all the absurdities and irregularities in The Menu’s narrative, if one thing’s for certain, it’s what Slowik’s team of cooks proudly declare in piercing unison before going up in flames: “We love you Chef!”
We're going with 4 out of 5 for The Menu.