Monday, March 4, 2024

Movie Review: ‘The Menu’ Serves Up a Twisted Delight

Director: Mark Mylod

Writers: Seth Reiss and Will Tracy

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult and Hong Chau

Synopsis: A young couple travels to a remote island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where the chef has prepared a lavish menu, with some shocking surprises.

From the first minute of the film, the mystery of the night’s dinner has begun. With the audience unaware of how Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) know each other, we are left second guessing everything that we see on screen. At first, it seems like the couple are simply going to a remote island to experience fine dining at the highest level, being given an exclusive tour of the premises and enjoying the night with food critics and celebrities. However, things quickly take a dark twist thanks to Chef Slowik’s (Ralph Fiennes) menu.

It is usually hard to shock an audience when they go into a film knowing that there will be twists and turns, something that heavily impacts the horror and thriller genre. However, when the first major twist in The Menu happens, it is done in a way that is effectively surprising due to the dramatic tone and editing style of the sequence. Nothing is left to the imagination as the viewer is placed in the perspective of the guests, realizing once and for all that they are in for a night that they didn’t expect.

The social commentary made in The Menu may feel obvious, having guests that feel like caricatures of food critics, celebrities, and rich businessmen; but that only heightens the drama unfolding in the film. It also balances nicely with the menu for the night presented by Chef Slowik, which plays into several aspects of fine dining that are criticized by people including small portion sizes, elaborate decorations, and garnishes for typically simple concepts, and themed menus that don’t generally relate to food. These sequences are some of the best within The Menu as director Mark Mylod inserts fancy shots of these meals as if they are a part of a cooking show, inserting humorous text to describe what is in the meal. Alongside the satirical descriptions, The Menu has perhaps the best food shots since the breakfast sandwich in Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, particularly when it comes to the less elaborate meals on the menu. Despite occurring numerous times throughout the film, the running joke continues to get better, with the final meal even taking me by surprise.

The Menu is a film in which it is hard to sympathize with most of the characters who have found themselves partaking in this night, but there is one character that we do follow that we can feel bad for. Margot does not belong at the event, which is made clear right from the start when she is not specifically on the guest list, but instead as a replacement for Tyler’s assigned guest. Chef Slowik is also aware of this and makes it clear to her that she should not be there, showing that he did not plan this as part of his menu. The film does slowly hint at Margot’s past, something that is done incredibly effectively through little actions and small chat between the guests at the event, but the reveal of the reason for her presence is the most heart-breaking part of the story, especially when we see that she hadn’t realized the severity of the situation either. From that moment onwards, the stakes are raised as the audience is left caring about what happens to her, adding weight to the narrative that wasn’t as present in the first act of the film.

Despite knowing how the story goes and where the twists and turns are, The Menu is a film that I can see myself going back to again and again. From the editing style that elevates the satirical humor to balancing that humor with some dark twists and turns that managed to shock me repeatedly, this is one of the best thrillers of the past few years. Concisely told and cleverly scripted, strong performances from Taylor-Joy and Fiennes help to elevate the material and create a film that is hard to look away from. Turns out there were not too many cooks in the kitchen with this delicious serving.

Grade: A-

Amy Smith
Amy Smith
Amy joined the InSession Film team in September 2020. Growing up in the north of Scotland, she has been balancing her passion with writing with studying English and Film at University alongside a part-time job. Alongside InSession Film, Amy writes for other publications, including her self-published website Film For Thought. She is also the Arts Editor with a focus on film and cinema for her University’s newspaper and assists in writing for other sections. You can follow her on Twitter @filmswithamy.

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