Movie Review: ‘The Menu’

Director: Mark Mylod

Cast: Anya-Taylor Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Ralph Fiennes, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, John Leguizamo

Plot: Margot Mills accompanies Tyler on a date to a highly priced and extremely exclusive restaurant. Amid the carefully constructed courses and story-telling from the Chef, Margot begins to notice that something sinister is afoot.

Plot: If you’ve been keeping an eye on this low-key but successful horror thriller in the lead up to release, you may have formed an idea of how things are going down. The trailers suggest a few different outcomes, including the classics of cannibalism and Most Dangerous Game people hunting, but there’s nothing so gimmicky on The Menu. Instead the focus is more on the characters slowly peeling back their psychological layers to determine how they fit into this situation and how they can escape it. Rather than hinging the narrative on a twist reveal, the horror comes from the what we learn about the chefs and diners and how that has informed their behaviour.

Director Mylod has an extensive career directing television shows including Entourage, Succession and Game of Thrones, but never broke into cinema with his past efforts. The Menu is heads and shoulders above his past work, narrowing the story down to a single setting and small cast that are carefully crafted – not unlike Chef’s (Fiennes) meals he presents to our main cast. This appears to have brought Mylod’s skills to the fore. This is a tense and intriguing experience that draws you into the world of the exclusive Hawthorne’s and the egomaniacal head chef.

Margot (Joy) is our entry point character, and unlike the rest of the diners she’s not invested or impressed by the opportunity she has been afforded. She’s being brought out Hawthorne’s via boat, isolating them on the island that houses the restaurant. Margot is brought by Tyler, who is a verbose foodie who hero worships Chef Julian and is desperate to impress him. Joining them in the dining room are Julian’s elderly and alcoholic mother, an older couple of repeat diners whose presence unsettles Margot, a trio of wealthy businessmen, a fading Hollywood star and his fed-up assistant and well-known critic with her editor. The wealth and prestige of many of these figures results in some entitled and pretentious customer behaviour, although they quickly learn that Julian is running this show and his crew are fiercely loyal.

Without going into detail about what unfolds, it’s mostly driven by a frustration of an artist. Julian has constructed a perfect menu and tells increasingly dark stories that inspired each course. Each diner represents a factor that have shown a disrespect to his craft, and he wants to make a clear statement about how these factors have worn aware his love for his work. The wildcard is Margot, who we learn early on was an unexpected guest has she took the place of Tyler’s original date. Neither Julian nor Margot know how she is going to play into the scenario being created, and it becomes a psychological duel between the two. Tyler, for his part, seems weirdly non-plussed by the dark events of the evening. Learning of what his motivations are later in the film gives us the proper hindsight and really emphasises what a good performance Hoult put in to what is initially a confusing character.

This is a strong case for attention to detail being the most important aspect of this kind of film, with each aspect of the film-making process working together to build tension. The set design of the restaurant and the surrounding complex, the cinematography surrounding the cooking and meals, the nuanced satire of cooking and foodie culture, and the performances of the actors all gels.

In addition to the three leads, notable performances come from Hong Chau as Elsa, the maître d’hôtel and John Leguizamo as the fading Hollywood actor. The latter was allegedly going to be played by Daniel Radcliffe playing himself, but this feels like it would be distracting. Instead, these two characters provide some of the most humorous and odd moments in this black comedy.

Rating: EIGHT out of TEN