Food is such a wonder, isn’t it? Filled with color, livelihood, and pizazz, it brings an allure to the field that humanity still seeks to explore and experiment with. The culture itself in modern times enraptures our beings, brought to life by cooking shows and rock-star chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Alain Ducasse.
And in a world that is ripe for satire and sharp skewings, The Menu comes to life as a delightfully wacky black comedy inviting us to a White Lotus/Cabin in the Woods-Esque setting for a taste of what’s to come. Forget three-course meals, folks; buckle in for a feast.
Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), a proclaimed “foodie,” brings his date, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), on a small boat to an excluded island called Hawthorn. The fine cuisine charges its customers a whopping $1,250 for a menu they won’t forget, courtesy of the mysterious and legendary Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). After a mini tour of the island dressed with broken branches, the couple and nine other guests settle down in the restaurant, finally digging into the sumptuous dishes courtesy of the chef and his crew. The first course gets the ball rolling well, but unfortunately, each meal becomes more abnormal and dangerous, culminating in an explosive conclusion with dessert. So expect the guests to run away? Nah, they must endure the wonders and techniques of Chef Slowik, or they risk their lives.
What the production team and veteran cinematographer Peter Deming accomplish is nothing short of impeccable in luring the viewers into a sense of ease for a supposed “fun” evening. The staff remains ambiguous yet perks up to a threatening mood if one guest challenges their manners. The tension is silently palpable, building each moment the folks stick around to see what course rolls onto their tables next. Course two might’ve been a “breadless bread plate” that amps up the height of nonsense, but then two courses later, a man takes his life for being scorned by Chef Slowik for being “good, not great.” And then, later on, the male guests attempt to escape the island while being chased, as the women are carried back inside to taste more dishes. It’s juvenile but sinister at its finest.
Taylor-Joy shines as our fish-out-of-water individual, bringing a unique light to her innocence and audacity to challenge the main chef himself. Hoult, Janet McTeer, and John Leguizamo all bring the fun while playing the foolish aspects, and Hong Chau’s Elsa keeps her presence memorable with her humorless, intimidating tone. The main selling point here is Fiennes, who blows away the screen with utter perfection and injects madness into his every disturbing move, from commanding his staff as soldiers to staring ominously at fellow guests. As he states early on, “Do not eat; TASTE,” you’re left to wonder if you’ll get to survive and share your thoughts on the local Yelp or Google Reviews. Fiennes savors the moments, delivering each course with monologue juiced in sincerity, desperation, and wit. Amon Goth (Schindler’s List) and Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter) have another challenger on their hands due to Fiennes’ command and agility on any screen.
With some doses of humor and memorably-looking dishes (with their personalized descriptions), this film feels exotic at times as the dishes it serves. Sure, it doesn’t have enough energy at the beginning mustered to push many folks to endure its luxurious nature. Still, if they’re okay with tagging along to Fantasy Island (like many other features before), they’re in for some exquisite dishes of black comedy that feel sufficiently nourishing. Director Mark Mylod can sleep easily after many stomachs are filled. His direction indicts humanity’s standard vanities that no one involved can escape and provides a hilarious cleanser to top it all off.
The Menu succeeds at being very tasty, thanks to Ralph Fiennes and some intricate plating.