When a course is ready to serve, Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) stands upfront and gives a resounding clap. All his chefs take position immediately. The echo of the clap is almost like a wake-up call for his select group of diners–get ready, you’re in for a treat of a lifetime. The same applies for Succession director Mark Mylod’s wickedly entertaining The Menu, which is a dish best served cold. The less you know about the multi-course punishment prepared in store, the better. (Also read: Anya Taylor-Joy did all her driving stunts in Furiosa herself, even though she doesn’t have a driving license)
The Menu is set primarily within the sleek modernist walls of Hawthorne, which is also an ultra-exclusive restaurant perched on a small island. Additionally, it is accessible only by a boat. The twelve guests are carefully selected, and include self-appointed food lover Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and his date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is not on the guest list. Elsa (a scene-stealing Hong Chau), who works as the elusive caretaker for the restaurant, notices this and gets it reported to Slowik. Others on the list are exact–a food critic and her plus one, a movie star and his assistant, the restaurant-regular old couple and a trio of finance bros. “You will eat less than you desire and more than you deserve,” Elsa whispers to one of them when they shoot a complaint why is there no bread in the course. That’s all it takes, to hint at the violent and unnerving set of courses that are in store for each one of them.
The Menu chooses to morph from satire to thriller and then to horror- and works tremendously well primarily because of the taut script by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy that doesn’t waste a moment to set the proceedings into order. The early scenes are key to understanding the juxtaposition of the events that will follow. Note how Elsa introduces the minimal staff quarters that almost resemble the military barracks. As Slowik will tell later, the overpriced dishes that are prepared by underpaid staff will ultimately turn into sh*t–The Menu will hint at each course with a startling, more flabbergasting revelation.
Cinematographer Peter Deming’s lens collects the reactions–savoury to scared, with equal aplomb. The ensemble of actors work uniformly well, matching off the exasperation and unfathomable dread with the approaching doom. Ralph Fiennes is superb, and does wonders with an underwritten character. Much of the film is pinned through Anya Taylor-Joy’s reactions of disbelief, and the actor exudes just the right mix of confidence and calm required to play this misfit, who is able to see through the matrix and thereby unlock an underlying code. Special mention to Nicholas Hoult, who excels as the appropriately unlikable Tyler and nails the comedic timing of his character.
Mark Mylod makes every little twist count and there is no room for subtlety as the haute cuisine turns deliciously savage. Even at its wildly entertaining best, The Menu falls short of greatness primarily because it needed some more slices of reason to overcome the wallop of disdain at the end. The more you wish The Menu to gradually grab the deal, the less hard it tries to uncover that last bonanza. The commentary is razor-sharp, and the aftertaste is mouth-watering. Just don’t ask for more, in this thrilling new addition to eat the rich cinematic universe.
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