The Menu (2022) Review

Think Gordon Ramsay is too harsh, mean and obnoxious during some of his cooking shows? Well, wait until you see Chef Slowik in The Menu. Played by Ralph Fiennes in one of the best performances in his career, he runs a posh haute cuisine restaurant Hawthorn with his assistant Elsa (Hong Chau). The restaurant is located on a private island and Slowik only caters to 12 guests per night at US$1,250 a head.

Among the guests of the night are a wealthy and devoted foodie Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and his date, Margo (Anya Taylor-Joy). The rest of them includes a has-been movie star (John Leguizamo) and his assistant Felicity (Aimee Carrero); a food critic (Janet McTeer) and her editor (Paul Adelstein); a rich couple (Judith Light and Reed Birney) as well as tech bros (Rob Yang, Arturo Castro and Mark St. Cyr). Upon arrival by boat, they are given a tour of the island and the restaurant and learn that everything from meat to seafood and vegetables is sourced in-house.

Then comes the tasting menu, where each course is exquisitely plated and guests are treated to a glass of premium wines. But what should have been a fine-dining experience worth cherishing subsequently turns into an unlikely nightmare.

Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult in "The Menu" (2022)

Veteran TV director Mark Mylod, whose notable credits include Game of Thrones and Succession, returns to feature filmmaking since his last one in Anna Faris and Chris Evans-starred What’s Your Number? back in 2011. And what a comeback it turns out to be! Working from a screenplay written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, The Menu combines a wicked mix of culinary porn, horror elements and pitch-black comedy all beautifully wrapped in a well-paced 106-minute length. This is the kind of movie that would have you guessing where the direction is heading as it progresses further.

Mylod and his screenwriters clearly have a field day experimenting with Agatha Christie-type of mystery, notably her acclaimed 1939 novel And Then There Were None, which involved 10 people stuck on a deserted island. Except that it wasn’t the kind of whodunit similar to say, Knives Out or this year’s Death on the Nile but more of a mystery drama that explored the grim nature of Chef Slowik’s multi-course agenda in a darkly comic manner. He also takes his time uncovering every layer of his story, which is reminiscent of how you would deliberately taste fine-dining food rather than eating and swallowing it like you normally do.

Every course that is freshly prepared from the kitchen and placed on the guests’ tables is accompanied by wry subtitles on the big screen, complete with the name of the dishes and a list of main ingredients. Social commentaries are subtly slipped in every now and then, covering from class warfare to obsession, general/professional feedback and criticism as well as consumerism and the restaurant/service industry in general. Like how (we) would perceive the idea of insanely expensive fine-dining cuisine, the movie happens to be pretentious and it was purposefully executed as such. You could say the entire movie is an elaborate piece of snarky stab at the aforementioned subject matters meant to play for laughs. Nervous laughter, to be exact, considering the nature of the movie.

Ralph Fiennes and Hong Chau in "The Menu" (2022)

The horror parts of the movie as well as some of its unflinching and at times, shocking violence are all well-incorporated without being gratuitous or over-the-top. Mylod also deserves extra credit for his genre know-how in terms of building tension that slowly but surely escalates with each passing time. I also love how he shot all the foods with the help of Peter Deming’s arresting, yet sumptuous cinematography while retaining the overall cold and calculated tone of the movie.

Earlier in the first paragraph, I mentioned The Menu is among Ralph Fiennes’ finest performances to date. His soft-spoken demeanour in his character as Chef Slowik lies a sneaky mannerism and piercing stare with malicious intents, making Gordon Ramsay’s arrogant and big-bully personality looks like a mainstream-friendly chef by comparison. We learn about how he strives for perfection in his craft of culinary taste and presentation and his increasingly disturbing side of him that you have to see for yourself. I understand that some might argue the lack of clear motivation on all the whys and whats regarding Chef Slowik and his team of dedicated chefs willing to go in the name of “experience”. And yet, Mylod’s decidedly ambiguous narrative approach works well in his favour and to me, it does help to keep me intrigued throughout the movie.

While Fiennes is the scene-stealer in this movie, let’s not forget about the rest of the equally solid ensemble cast as well. Anna Taylor-Joy deserves mention here for her rebellious character as Margot while Nicholas Hoult excels in his role as the overzealous foodie, Tyler. Then, there’s Hong Chau, whose supporting turn as the ice-cold Elsa is every bit as disturbing as Ralph Fiennes’ Chef Slowik.

The Menu is no doubt a great little gem worth discovering and one of the unexpectedly best movies ever seen in 2022.