- Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult
- Mark Mylod
- Comedy, Horror, Suspense, Thriller
- Release date
- November 18, 2022
- Where to watch
- HBO Max
Directed by Mark Mylod, who is best known for his work on television series such as Game of Thrones, Succession, and Entourage, The Menu is a psychological thriller starring Ralph Fiennes (No Time To Die, The Harry Potter films). Fiennes plays Julian Slowik, a renowned and reclusive chef who lives on a remote island that is home to his exclusive restaurant for the wealthy elite, and tonight he has a very special menu planned for them.
While I will do my best, reviewing a thriller in any meaningful way without spoiling anything is a nearly impossible challenge, so please bear with me as I navigate the minefield. The first twenty minutes of The Menu are a perfect example of how to build tension in a film. Aided by pitch-perfect performances, all of the long quiet slightly eschew moments that movies like House of Darkness tried and failed to deliver, The Menu serves up with ease. It is these moments between, the unspoken and unidentified yet implicit threat, that drive The Menu’s narrative, and Hong Chau (The Whale, Downsizing), who plays Chef Slowik’s restaurant Captain, can be credited with much of this. She is wonderfully difficult to read, seamlessly transitioning from welcoming hostess to menacing acolyte and giving us brief tantalizing glimpses of what lies beneath the surface to chilling effect.
In a film in which what is unsaid is more important than what is, one of the standout performances are those given by Janet McTeer (Ozark) and Paul Adelstein (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), who plays Lillian and Ted, a hoity-toity restaurant critic and her disgustingly sycophantic editor. The chemistry between the two is wonderful, with each feeding off of the other in a decadent symbiosis. They fill the uncomfortable silences with even more uncomfortable banal elitism as she attempts to deduce the chef’s intentions just loudly enough to be heard by everyone but quietly enough to maintain the illusion of a private conversation.
While everyone holds their own in the film, Ralph Fiennes’s star shines the brightest. His portrayal of the serious and wounded Slowik is as offputting as it is magnetic, with Fiennes dancing on the edge of madness throughout. One moment, he’s menacing and the next he’s boiling over with vulnerability and despair, but throughout he commands your attention as easily as his Chef Slowik does his zealot-like kitchen staff.
Unfortunately, the movie flounders in the second act when the twist is revealed. It’s disturbing and potent, but it happens so early in the movie that the reactions of the potential victims don’t make sense. None of them believably try to escape or fight back in any meaningful way. There’s a scene in which it’s shown that escaping would be difficult but it seems insufficient to break all of them from trying again. All that was needed was a scene with someone trying to escape and finding out that the door was locked, or to have someone rush the “bad guys” only to be seriously injured or killed, to make it more believable that everyone just sits there and accepts their fate.
The Menu’s biggest problem is that only two of the restaurant guests are evil enough to come close to justifying what is planned for them but the movie seems to take the antagonist’s side which is that they all deserve death because of how their wealth makes the chef feel.
Finally, the very last shot is completely unearned and dumb.
Some of the performances are almost enough for us to add this to our Worth It selection but it ultimately just misses the mark.
- The entire premise of the film is that the wealthy elite are horrible and deserve death because of how they make Slowik feel about his “art.” As though his feelings are their responsibility. Unfortunately, since it is the film’s central idea, and it gets very preachy, we dinged it pretty hard for Wokeness. It really is the movie’s downfall. All of the early nuance is flushed in a single spectacle followed by an hour of masterfully performed expositional Lefist justifications.
- The movie pays lip service to the idea of the “noble prostitute.”
James Carrick is a passionate film enthusiast with a degree in theater and philosophy. James approaches dramatic criticism from a philosophic foundation grounded in aesthetics and ethics, offering insight and analysis that reveals layers of cinematic narrative with a touch of irreverence and a dash of snark.