Food is a big part of our culture. It goes far deeper than just being a basic need. It can be ceremonial, a source of pleasure, and a social tool. As such, renowned chefs worldwide look upon their craft as a complex art form, something The Menu explores in one of the most extreme examples imaginable.
Directed by Mark Mylod, The Menu takes place on a remote island that happens to be a world renowned dining destination, housing the eccentric world-famous culinarian, Chef Slowik. However, over the course of a highly exclusive dinner party event, Slowik’s staff, conduct and theatrical menu becomes increasingly ominous over time.
One of the standout features of The Menu was its meticulous dialogue. The script didn’t rush itself but allowed the audience time to get to know each character in some capacity, interweaving their character arcs with the slow burn build-up that comes to a jarring head mid-way through. This movie takes its time, which makes its shocking moments all the more impactful. Furthermore, the simplicity of its one-room format allowed plenty of focus to be placed on character development and plot build-up, lending itself to the looming sense of tension that lurks uncomfortably in the background from the first course onward.
And as unsettling as the film was, the script did well with weaving in moments of dark humour that didn’t compromise the overarching tension. It never seemed forced and was frequently shown as a character using humour as a way to cope with an uncomfortable environment, which is as believable as it is relatable to many. Working comic relief into a foreboding thriller such as this can be an extremely challenging task, but The Menu carries it off with deeply impressive dexterity.
Of course, we can’t not mention the chillingly layered performance of Ralph Fiennes as the slighted antagonist, Chef Slowik. Carrying the role with a stony cold stoicism, there was always that visible underlying simmer of overzealous resentment, giving Slowik the increasingly uneasy energy of a ticking time bomb. And his performance played next to that of Anya Taylor-Joy as Margot Mills made for a wildly compelling hot and cold contrast. Taylor-Joy’s portrayal of Margot presented a polarising image to that of Slowik; a fiery exterior with an ice-cold intuition lurking beneath. This led to a nail-biting rivalry of wits; a quiet battle that was anyone’s game.
Other notable cast members include Hong Chau as Slowik’s frosty assistant who sets the tone of the movie from her first moment on screen, and Nicholas Hoult as Tyler, whose obsessive idolisation of Slowik blinds him from the get-go, making for an interesting commentary on the danger of idols.
All of this was accentuated by the subtle cinematography of Peter Deming, whose simplicity and attention to detail made for a profoundly atmospheric accompaniment to the ever-building storyline. The Menu focuses on the seemingly innocent dining motif, containing numerous appetising macro shots of both the prep and product of the fine food. Such was accompanied by a placard introducing each course and a sum up of the dish written beside the delicious-looking arty shots of each.
The Menu also does a great job honing in on sound, amplifying certain soundbites that make everyday noises seem raw and jarring. For instance, the sound of chewing in this movie is skin-crawlingly visceral, and a simple clap of the head Chef’s hands is intimidatingly piercing. Atmosphere plays a major role in maintaining your engagement.
All in all, The Menu is a slow-burn thriller with interesting messages and multiple layers. It opens with an unmistakable yet indescribable sense of foreboding, gradually descending into something deeply unsettling. It has a very claustrophobic feel to it, which ramps up the tension in a way that feels very uneasily natural as we watch each character slowly crack under the building pressure. It never feels overdone and always feels absurdly strange. Ironically, there’s a chance you’ll walk away from The Menu with an uncomfortable loss of appetite.
Have you seen The Menu yet? Did it fill your appetite for thrills, or did it leave you feeling unsatisfied? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.