Painstakingly prepared. Brilliantly executed.
The Menu is a 2022 black comedy horror thriller film directed by Mark Mylod, written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, produced by Searchlight Pictures, Hyperobject Industries, Gary Sanchez Productions, and Alienworx Productions, and distributed by Searchlight Pictures. It stars Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy.
"This is what you're paying for. It's all part of the menu." - Chef Julian Slowik
Twelve aristocrats are shipped off to an island for an extravagant and meticulous meal that is prepared by Chef Julian Slowik and his kitchen of cooks in an experience like no other. As the meal carries throughout the night, the guests realize that the menu is much more sinister than they first thought.
The Menu is one of the coolest and most unique films that I've seen all year.
The screenplay has this sharp wit to it that was very reminiscent of Knives Out. The dialogue feels almost Tarantino-esc with how intelligent the lines are and just how clean it all feels. All of the characters are written to have distinct personalities that make them say and do certain things and allow them to all stand out in their own right. I just loved the script for this film. I would not be surprised at all if it gets an Oscar nomination.
And, like I said before, it's very unique. I will continue to use this comparison throughout the review, but it was very reminiscent of Knives Out. Tonally and story-wise, it's entirely different, but it's in the same vein of film: a dry humor black comedy that can get very dark at times and have subversive twists and intense moments. Now, The Menu is much more intense and much more violent, but they both have a quirkiness to them that I really, really like. It makes the film appear charming. If you liked Knives Out, I do think you will like The Menu.
The direction here was also fantastic. I haven't seen all of Succession, but I have seen parts of it, and the director here has directed episodes of that show. That makes sense. He has this very proper and meticulous style that fits with the rest of the movie. A bunch of the shots are very symmetrical and formal, and it just adds to this slightly wacky tone that the film has. He also does a great job of making you laugh without any dialogue. There are some directorial choices he makes that are very funny and are timed extremely well.
Backing off of that, he also balances comedy and tension very well. I mentioned this in my review of Nope, but whenever something is intense and there's a well-timed or appropriate joke made, it can add to the tension without undercutting it. That is very true of The Menu. This movie is funny. It has an extremely dry and sarcastic sense of humor that a lot of black comedies have, but it can also be very intense at times, and the jokes made actually add to the tension instead of subtracting from it. That's a very hard balance to strike as a director or screenwriter, and I'm very impressed that both the director and screenwriters were able to nail that aspect.
All of the performances are great here, but I want to specifically point out Ralph Fiennes. I don't know if it's just because I've always seen him as Voldemort and Amon Goeth, but he always has a villainous and menacing side to him that eeks out even in his heroic roles. I feel like he hasn't really done a villainous role in a bit, so it was nice to him return to it here, because he is incredible. He is so funny and so quirky while also being the worst. He makes his character charming and funny while also being a completely deranged psychopath. I think he deserves an Oscar nomination for this film. He was perfect.
Finally, I think this movie does a really good job of balancing an ensemble cast. Like Knives Out, there's a lot of characters that share the screen in this movie. And, like I said before, the writers did a great job of making them stick out and giving them defining personality traits that make them memorable. Part of this is also the performances. Every single actor in this movie is good. Some are better than others, but all of the performances are a B+ or higher. I loved spending time with these characters. Since the characters are all so memorable, the movie sticks with you a little bit more, and I really appreciate that.
The Menu gets almost everything right: the direction, the writing, the performances, the production design, the characters. But it really falls short on one major thing.
The story of this movie is a complete mess. And, unfortunately, it really holds this movie back from being one of this year's best.
The beginning of the film doesn't really make it clear where the story is going. There's a big moment about a third of the way through the film that takes a huge left turn and gives you an idea of the story, but it's never really clear where the plot is actually going. And, by the end of the movie, you will be asking yourself "What actually happened in The Menu?". It doesn't follow the story structure of a normal film. It doesn't really have a first, second, and third act. It just kind of blends everything together, making for an extremely frustrating plot that will leave you slightly unsatisfied.
I won't actually spoil what happens, but there's a meal in the film that the characters refer to as "The Mess". The Mess is the big turning point that happens about a third of the way through the film, and it makes you wonder what exactly the rest of the movie is going to be. It's a bit of mystery as to what is actually going on. But, about ten or fifteen minutes after The Mess, one of the characters reveals what the chef's plans are. They give you the answer to the mystery before we've even reached the halfway point of the movie. And, because of that, all the air is sucked out of the balloon. The first third of the film treats the movie as though it's a mystery. And it's so strange to me that they would reveal the answers to all of the secrets before we even halfway through the film.
There is definitely some social commentary and messaging in The Menu about restaurant culture and social classes and all of that, but the commentary isn't prominent enough to merit overtaking the story. Much like Nope, The Menu seems to sometimes be exchanging story for symbolism and messaging. They will sacrifice explaining plot points just to have symbolism in there, and that's very frustrating. It's not as bad as Nope was, but it's still a problem.
And, finally, The Menu leaves a lot of questions unanswered and a lot of plot lines untouched. There are lines of dialogue that characters say that you wonder "Huh. Where is that going?" and then it's never brought up again. That's always frustrating. Now, after sitting with the movie for a little, I have realized that some of these lines are just to flesh out the characters and not to bring up new plot lines, but that can be confusing for the audience member when you interpret it as the story planting seeds for eventual payoff.
Final Thoughts and Score
The Menu is a very fun and quirky film that has great characters, direction, and writing. It shares plenty of similarities to Knives Out despite not being as good. The story will leave you desiring more, but this is a very good film.
I will go Savory here. Age range is 14+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)
Fun Factor: 8/10
Directed by Mark Mylod
Rated R for strong bloody violence, frightening themes and images, language, sexual content, thematic elements
Released on November 18, 2022
1 hour and 46 minutes
Ralph Fiennes as Chef Julian Slowik Anya Taylor-Joy as Margot Mills
Nicholas Hoult as Tyler
Hong Chau as Elsa
Janet McTeer as Lillian Bloom
Paul Adelstein as Ted
John Leguizamo as Damian Garcia
Aimee Carrero as Felicity
Reed Birney as Richard
Judith Light as Anne
Rob Yang as Bryce
Mark St. Cyr as Dave
Arturo Castro as Soren
Christina Brucato as Katherine
Matthew Cornwell as Dale
Adam Aalderks as Jeremy