The Menu is a film I had heard a lot about, but couldn’t say I was particularly interested in. I knew the reviews were positive, and I recognized the pedigree of those involved, the largest standout amongst them being Anya Taylor-Joy, whose resume includes notable horror fare like The Witch (which I saw in theaters and enjoyed, although unfortunately not nearly as much of some of you may have), Split (which I enjoyed a fair amount), and superhero horror film The New Mutants (which I didn’t particularly enjoy). Yes, every time my wife and I browsed the Max streaming service, we would briefly consider the film, and then, subsequently decide on a different film, leaving The Menu forever in the dreaded queue.
If I am honest with myself, I believe the reason I kept second-guessing myself about the film was to do with its trailer – a lot of artsy-fartsy food aficionados preparing themselves for an exquisitely prepared feast. How, oh how, would this become a horror film? In retrospect, I believe the trailer may, in fact, be intentionally deceptive about the film’s actual story, meant to surprise the viewer when it doesn’t head in the obvious direction. What I expected from the film – that it would be an artsy-fartsy film that eventually ends up with them all partaking in cannibalism, isn’t actually what the film is about.
Instead, the film heads in a different, fairly unique direction, and I believe it is best I leave it at that. I could try to unravel its tangled web for you and offer you a proper summary of what it is actually about, but I believe The Menu’s mystery meat is best enjoyed as such.
Directed by Mark Mylod (a director whose prior credentials might surprise you – a lot of goofy, light-heart comedies that didn’t do very well critically) and written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, The Menu doesn’t reinvent the wheel, per se. Although it doesn’t ultimately become what my preconceived notions envisioned, it does work with a lot of the same ingredients (aha, see what I did there? Ingredients? ‘Cause it’s about food! Haha, professional film critic.) that I originally expected. A lot of the film is, in fact, spent with pretentious people gawking over fancy food, either worshipping the head chef as a God or trying to find ways to criticize every dish. This means that a large part of the film is spent waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak – waiting for the horror component of it all to factor in.
Thankfully, this isn’t as dull as it could have been, benefited by a largely entertaining performance by Nicholas Hoult, whose character plays the snooty food smarty-pants to sometimes hilarious effect (in which case, maybe it does make sense that the director’s previous efforts were in comedy). This leaves Anya Taylor-Klaus to play an everyman type, reacting to the absurdity of everyone around her.
The cinematography is stylish, benefited by its luscious cuisines that help set the table in a Hannibal Lecter kind of way (still not about cannibalism though!), along with some other comedic choices that play well into its concept.
When the horror comes, although it subverted my initial prediction, its largely conventional fare, building off simple, rather superficial social commentary and outcomes that are easy to predict.
Thankfully though, The Menu benefits from its cast and the charming, witty absurdity of itself. Ironically, I came here to see Anya Taylor-Klaus (who does very well, mind you), but it is Nicholas Hoult and, especially, Ralph Fiennes, as the proud and obsessive chef, that really work to sell the film. The film is filled to the brim with sassy quips and one-liners, and although they may not make the film add up to anything wholly substantial, their dedication to their roles and the general charm of the film makes the 107 minute runtime go down easy.
I would identify The Menu as a black comedy first and foremost, that leans heavily on its concept more than it does the depth of its characters or any particular horror component. The horror is there, absolutely, but it isn’t the main course being served (no pun intended). It wants you to take everything it throws at you with a wink and a nod, stuffing itself full of gags and goofy moments, but never quite going beyond the point of no return with them.
I would recommend The Menu as a solid film, and a solid feather in the cap of everybody involved.