If there’s one particular genre that seems to be in at the moment (aside from murder mysteries), it’s dramas about chefs. From films about fictional cooks like Boiling Point and Disney+’s The Bear to dramas about real life chefs like this year’s Julia Child series Julia, it seems we can’t get enough of stories about the pursuit of great cuisine. However, if you’re looking for something a little weirder and more satirical, you might want to check out The Menu, a new horror-comedy that takes the world of high class cooking to the extreme.
The Menu’s plot is kicked off by food nerd Tyler (played by Nicholas Hoult) being invited to eat at Hawthorne, a prestigious restaurant on a remote island. Tyler is obsessed by Julian Slowik, the celebrity chef who views himself as kind of food messiah, treating cooking as a spiritual and conceptual art form. He’s accompanied by his girlfriend Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), who’s considerably less interested in the world of gastronomy, and bats away Tyler’s criticisms of her smoking (“it kills the tastebuds”). Though the film begins with the pair travelling to the island, Margot is the film’s real main protagonist. As they’re shown around the island and its many eccentricities, Margot is carefully watched by the intimidating matrie’d Elsa (Hong Chau), since her name was not originally on the guest list.
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The couple are joined by a group of other invitees, who’ve all coughed up $1250 to take part in the food extravaganza. It’s a cast of character types you’d expect at an event like this: self-important but vapid food critic (Janet McTeer) and her editor (Paul Adelstein), a half-interested movie star (John Leguizamo), three smug rich guys who work in tech (Rob Yang, Arturo Castro and Mark St. Cyr) and wealthy couple Anne and Richard, both longtime fans of Slowik’s work. They head into the more-than-luxurious dining hall where most of the movie takes place, and they’re now fully under the watchful eye of the chef, who Fiennes plays with a performance that makes you feel his presence even when he’s not on screen. He keeps his customers in check as much as he does his staff and is obsessed with perfection. Trouble starts when he serves a starter of “bread plate without bread”, and some of the customers feel short-changed. As Slowik’s dishes get barmier and more absurd, the plot gets darker, and the group of diners all realise they’ve made a big mistake.
I won’t go into proper spoilers, but the darker, horror elements are all portrayed with a satirical undertone, and some bits are so ridiculous you can’t help but crack up (which seems mostly the intention.) The sending up of fancy food presentations and over pontificating about how food makes you feel is pretty broad and in your face, but still good fun. Some of the best bits of comedy are the individual title cards which introduce each course, and get more absurd as the plot does. The cast of pretentious diners, including Hoult’s Tyler, are all well played – but it’s definitely Taylor-Joy and Fiennes that steal the show. Margot is played as the voice of reason in the chaos for the audience to relate to and root for, and Slowik is portrayed as a man who seems to have been so immersed in his cooking and so worshipped for his methods that he’s completely lost touch with reality, more intent on making a statement than good, enjoyable food. The film is worth watching for it’s uniqueness – and sending up of the OTT artsy tropes of countless celebrity chef shows.
London restaurant Six By Nico have created canapés specifically inspired by The Menu, including “Not Really A Cheeseburger” that put beef tartare, cheese pickle, burger sauce and parmesan into a small pot (watch the film and you’ll see it’s plot significance), and “Cold Soup”, a barbecue cucumber and melon gazpacho with mojo verde and goat’s curd. The deconstructed cheeseburger was definitely the standout – different but fully recognisable. So if you want your own The Menu experience (well – minus the horror), Six By Nico is the place to book.
The Menu is in cinemas this weekend.
For more great films to watch, check out our November Movie Guide