Cooking shows have been all the rage for the last several years. Whether it’s MasterChef, Chef’s Table, Iron Chef, or Cake Wars, everyone’s a foodie these days. Not surprisingly then, horror has finally jumped on the bandwagon. In fact, the only thing that’s surprising is that it’s taken this long for the genre to bake it’s own foodie-inspired movie. Mixing satire with some horror conventions, The Menu generated all kinds of positive buzz at the tail end of 2022. From producers Adam McKay, Betsy Koch, and, yes, Will Ferrell, The Menu boasts a unique premise, a strong cast, and an interesting blend of horror and black comedy.
Margot Mills, along with her date Tyler, has joined several elite guests to dine at Chef Julian Slowik’s exclusive and remote island restaurant, The Hawthorn. Among the guests are a world-renowned food critic, high-flying stockbrokers, an actor, and the wealthiest of the wealthy. And the chef has prepared a very special menu that includes several courses spread out over the evening. But the celebrity chef has something sinister in store for his guests that unfolds with each successive dish.
The Menu Mixes Its Suspense and Satire Into Fun Dish
Just about everything in The Menu works to perfection. Though blending dark humor and horror are typically tall orders, director Mark Mylod and writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy mix the disparate ingredients in quite well. Most of the horror is subtle with the emphasis squarely placed on the mystery and suspense of what Chef Julian plans for his guests. It’s this part of the movie that methodically evokes an increasing amount of discomfort. When The Menu finally ups the ante, the shocks feel genuine such as Slowik’s very public change of ownership over the restaurant. There’s certainly a flair to these scene that’s not unlike the food presentation itself.
Most of the horror is subtle with the emphasis squarely placed on the mystery and suspense of what Chef Julian plans for his guests.
Still The Menu is at its best when it is serving up dark humor and stinging satire. On one hand, Mylod et al have blast skewering the pretentious culture of the wealthy. Some of the over-the-top food presentation bits alone generate laughs. When Anya Taylor-Joy’s ‘Margot’ complains about being ‘hungry’ after a few courses, she’s probably speaking to most of us who have had dinner – and paid a lot of money – at an elite restaurant. But The Menu more generally takes aim at the ways in which the socially elite ‘take’ from others and how any fanbase exploits and drains its source of affection of any joy. Maybe the best scene in this thriller is a simple black and white picture of Chef Julian making a cheeseburger – it’s a quiet moment that speaks volumes.
The Menu Offers Several Delicious Performances From a Good Cast
In addition to some fine cuisine, The Menu boasts a strong cast that includes Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes, and John Leguizamo. Aside from Samara Weaving (Ready or Not, The Babysitter), Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Last Night in Soho) has established herself as one of the genre’s preeminent ‘Scream Queens’. And she delivers a strong performance here making a perfect foil to Fiennes’ mysterious celebrity chef. Not surprisingly, Fiennes ensures that Chef Slowik is a layered villain whose motivations are actually sympathetic. As a washed up actor, John Leguizamo (Violent Night) delivers a handful of fun laughs.
…Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road, Renfield) is low-key MVP of The Menu …
Arguably, Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road, Renfield) is low-key MVP of The Menu as the oblivious foodie, Tyler. Technically, Tyler is the only who knows what happening around him from the very beginning. But his obsession with demonstrating his knowledge of food and food preparation to anyone and everyone puts Tyler into his own little world. Some of The Menu’s more subtly funny moments stem from Tyler’s obsessing over each bite of food while chaos unfolds around him. Hoult’s clueless facial expressions and dialogue delivery are subtle but spot on. While we eventually learn Tyler has done something despicable, it’s still hard to watch Chef Julian humiliate him – it’s one of the film’s more uncomfortable moments.
The Menu Packs a Bite With Its Satire and Suspense
From start to finish, The Menu is nearly a pitch-perfect satire of foodie culture and, maybe more generally, our celebrity-obsessed culture. All of the performances are excellent and the story unfolds in a truly novel, and unexpected, fashion. While black comedy wins out over sheer terror, there’s several scenes brimming with discomfort. Eventually audiences will figure out where the story wants to go, but Mylod finishes it off with a genuinely emotional final exchange between Margot and Chef Slowik. Besides, The Menu delivers a dessert in its finale that you’re not likely to forget any time soon.