It never goes out of vogue to skewer the lifestyles of the elites — the rich, the snobs, the out-of-touch — and what better target than that of the gourmet food world. Taken aim at before but perhaps not this bluntly or this nastily, Mark Mylod’s The Menu melds surface level but effective satire with gleeful horror elements to lambast both those who patronize the world’s most expensive restaurants and the chefs who may have lost sight of the art and joy of cooking.
The Menu is anything but subtle in its set-up. A collection of wealthy individuals have all purchased the opportunity to take part in an exclusive and desirable culinary experience, one which requires them to travel by boat to a secluded island (a location with incredible Most Dangerous Game vibes) for an hours-long, multi-course, dining extravaganza prepared by one of the world’s most renowned chefs (Ralph Fiennes). Among the food critics, stockbrokers, and actors, we find an obsessive foodie (Nicholas Hoult) and his much-less enthused date (Anya Taylor-Joy), who will soon become the focal point of a much more terrifying meal than she signed up for.
Essentially confined to a single location for most of the runtime — a well-designed kitchen and dining room — The Menu is snappily paced, turning up the heat and the tension with each new reveal; once the concept really clicks into place the film is off to the races, taking more delight than you might expect in tormenting its characters. It wouldn’t be off the mark to call it a black comedy more than anything else, a characterization given weight by its ensemble of talented comedic actors, including Hong Chau and John Leguizamo, alongside the aforementioned Hoult and Taylor-Joy, who have turned into two of the most interesting young actors working today.
But the biggest draw here is Fiennes, an actor who could very well go down as the most thrillingly unpredictable star of his generation. Seemingly comfortable in almost any register, Fiennes draws on his talents for theatrical menace and droll humor to make an absolute meal out of the film’s sharply written dialogue and tongue-in-cheek distaste for many of the subjects portrayed. However, despite his villainous nature, Fiennes — and, for that matter, the film itself — craft a more nuanced characterization than one might expect, one whose narrative conclusion lands in a place much closer to last year’s excellent Pig than I would have anticipated. Though not quite as effective as that film, The Menu still reaches a level of pathos that grounds its dark humor in some real emotion, a grace note on — if you’ll pardon the metaphor — an ultimately satisfying cinematic meal.