"The Menu" stars Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Judith Light, and John Leguizamo. Released on November 18, 2022, the film has a young couple discovering something sinister at an exclusive restaurant.
The film was directed by Mark Mylod, who also directed "Ali G Indahouse", "The Big White", and "What's Your Number?". Usually, we go to restaurants to hang out and try out some of the best meals on the planet. But in a restaurant like this, we're here only to survive. We have many options for people to see before spending Thanksgiving with their loved ones and some delicious food. Although, this may make them not want to fill their stomachs with anything this year.…or go to a restaurant. This film has my attention for numerous reasons, including the cast and its bizarre concept. I'm always in the mood for something completely surreal, and Ralph Fiennes as a chef is enough for me to secure a reservation. So was it able to provide a satisfying main course, or does this experience deserve a one-star rating? Let's find out.
The story follows Tyler (Hoult) and his companion Margot Mills (Taylor-Joy). They travel by boat to Hawthorne, an exclusive restaurant on a private island owned and operated by celebrity chef Julian Slowik (Fiennes). Upon arrival, they are joined by the other guests, including food critic Lillian Bloom (McTeer), wealthy couple Richard (Reed Birney) and Anne Liebbrandt (Light), and post-prime movie star George Diaz (Leguizamo). As the group takes in the atmosphere and unusual dishes, Margot questions the restaurant's setting and Julian's mysterious motives. Her concern gradually comes to fruition when the chef's grim actions reveal the restaurant's true colors.
It's no surprise that a black comedy film can be fun and darkly bizarre if the balance between the two is present. Sure, we can laugh at some of the silliest and light-hearted moments, but there's also no shame in chuckling at the ones that are unexpectedly grim and shocking. I enjoyed these types of movies because they're not afraid to poke fun at specific topics used in serious dramas in the most creative way imaginable. So I was pretty happy to see "The Menu" being the latest to combine these ingredients to create a unique and twisted meal. To the surprise of no one, this five-course meal is a delectable and sickly humorous combination of horror, black comedy, and social commentary. While the taste may not leave an ever-lasting impression in my mouth, it's satisfying enough to fill my stomach.
"The Menu" is another film that may leave some viewers feeling conflicted regarding its direction. The film is basically about a group of guests enduring the disturbing customs of the restaurant, including the course's themes. However, the story offers much more than just this simple appetizer. The actual main course is the movie's satirical reflection on the wealthy upperclassman. The plot uses dark comedy and horror elements to parody the characters' snobby personalities and actions. Additionally, it represents the obsession with perfection and the strive to obtain it, mainly from Slowik. So the movie had the task of balancing the social commentary with its standard comedy/thriller vibes that modern audiences would expect. The result is a delicious and hysterical treat that never takes itself seriously.
However, it's far from a perfect dining experience, as a few elements in the story fell short of its execution. It wasn't as balls-to-the-walls nuts as I thought it would be based on the marketing. However, that could be because I was expecting it to be like "Ready or Not", another black comedy horror film from Searchlight Pictures. Luckily, that doesn't mean I liked this direction even less. Mark Mylod seemed like an odd choice to direct the movie at first, considering his lackluster filmography. However, the filmmaker proved me wrong by providing enticement and oddness in its brief, shocking violence and humor. While its finale also didn't fall prey to the usual trope of going all-out with its violence, it's serviceable in delivering a subtle yet fulfilling closure to its themes. This is due to its screenplay by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, who favor bold choices in this recipe over modern narrative tropes.
The cast was also great in elevating this strange extravaganza with their performances. Ralph Fiennes has never failed to impress me with his charisma and talent in his roles, even in a movie that's far below his standards. Unsurprisingly, his performance as Julian Slowik is no different. I would even say it's one of the best I've seen from him. Julian is seen as a calm yet mentally unstable perfectionist with a grudge against people above him. Fiennes delivers a performance that matches Julian's personality but is also not afraid to have fun with it without being too over-the-top. Julian is one messed-up chef, and I couldn't help but love him because of it. Anya Taylor-Joy also did very well with her performance as Margot, and Nicholas Hoult offers the right amount of humor and mean-spiritedness in his role of Tyler, a snobby food fanatic. There's also John Leguizamo, who has recently appeared in more movies than ever. I still wouldn't complain about that since he still makes a solid presence onscreen, and his performance as George Diaz is no exception.
Overall, "The Menu" is a fun, stylish, and darkly comical dish that's tasty enough to fulfill my appetite. It may not be extreme as I thought it would be regarding its concept and violence. However, after thinking about it more following my experience, I figured that it's better with what it is now. A movie like this doesn't need to showcase plenty of ultra-violent deaths or any over-the-top shenanigans to get its point across or even provide a sense of enjoyment. All it needs is a good story and a proper execution of its balance of comedy and horror to deliver a fun and refreshing experience. "The Menu" offers precisely that, even though the aftertaste isn't 100% perfect. If you're a fan of dark comedy and even food in general, the film is worth checking out or, in this case, dining at.