With its sharp wit and savagely smart narrative, director Mark Mylod’s The Menu is a film experience of dark satirical fun. Its unexpected, twisting thrills will keep you on edge until the final moment.
Young couple Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) travel to a remote island to eat at Hawthorne, an exclusive restaurant run by celebrity chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), who has prepared a lavish molecular gastronomy menu where food is treated as conceptual art, although his approach to cuisine has some shocking surprises for the wealthy guests.
Director Mark Mylod’s The Menu is a classic puzzle-box thriller and while you enter the cinema expecting one thing, it delivers an altogether different kind of cinema experience. Part character study, part thriller and delivered with plenty of satire, The Menu finds a group of elite dinners invited to a very special celebration of molecular gastronomy at the lavish and world-class restaurant, Hawthorne, which is operated by the calculating and godlike restauranter Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). While the rest of the guests are enthralled by his culinary art, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), a young female guest runs afoul of Slowick and soon realises that this night is not what she thought it would be. And soon all hell breaks loose.
While The Menu is best savoured in one full serving, and spoilers should be avoided, I will say that this is a film that seeks to take deliberate narrative risks and they pay off big time in the long run. Sharply written, thrilling to watch and hysterically funny at the most absurd moments, Mylod’s The Menu is a darkly satirical look at consumer culture, elitism and the influencer crowd, and it’s a very smart watch. Moment by moment and course by course the direction of the narrative gets stranger and stranger, and some very scary thrills will make you sit up as Slowik’s menacing plan comes to the forefront of the narrative.
Cast as the central character in this very edgy watch is rising A-lister Anya Taylor-Joy who is becoming an absolute go-to talent and she gives her best performance yet in The Menu. Cast as the rebellious and bolshie Margot, who is lost to the concept and extravagance of her surroundings, and who soon suspects that all is not as it seems. Like everything in The Menu, Taylor-Joy presents audiences with an extremely layered and textured performance, and she’s right up against the uneasy tension of this narrative right from the start.
Facing off against Taylor-Joy’s interruption Margot is noted thespian and multiple Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes as revered celebrity chef Julian Slowik. And his is a dark and threatening presence. As Slowik, Fiennes presents a character who is forthright and stern in his presentation. A perfectionist in every sense of the word, his devotion to his culinary craft has turned him into a mad man and now this god-like figure is about to snap. Fiennes’s performance is laced with menace and intimidation, and his diabolical menu is served to the audience with both fright and understanding. He battles back and forth with Taylor-Joy’s Margot, and the two of them have excellent chemistry that takes this picture to another level.
Cast as the third wheel of the story is Nicholas Hoult as Tyler, an egotistical and snobbish foodie fanboy who is obsessed with Slowik’s work and whose unnerving neediness will make audiences cringe. This is all deliberate though, and Hoult gives a performance that marks Tyler as a deeply loathsome and unlikeable character, and as the narrative progresses we soon learn just how despicable and unpleasant he truly is. Hoult’s presence as Tyler is parasitic and leech-like, and his performance demands to be lauded for how detestable he makes this character. He plays off of Taylor-Joy with excellence, and their appearance together makes this film a very interesting watch.
The Menu is an edgy watch, and audiences will be swept up in the shocks, scares and satire very quickly. But it does play out at its own pace and there’s a lot going on to keep audiences entranced. Cinematography and production design plays a key role in the realisation of The Menu’s narrative, and this film is a gorgeous piece of cinema to witness. The work of cinematographer Peter Deming is beautiful to behold, and he captures the texture, colour and plating of The Menu’s gorgeous and meaningful dishes with a perfect eye. The production design of Ethan Tobman and the art direction of Lindsey Moran are also key parts of the film’s sense of mood, and the delicate and polished perfection of Hawthorne holds a dark and uneasy presence throughout the film, that impacts the intensity and punch of the story.
The Menu is a sharp and edgy piece of satirical comedy-horror, and there’s a lot going on in this picture that audiences will latch onto. It’s a very inventive and smart watch, and you’ll be on the edge of your seat right up to the final moment, and it makes for one hell of a bang.
Image: 20th Century Studios