The Menu review: Ralph Fiennes’ Slowik chef shoves a spicy treat down your throat

Director Mark Mylod’s film shines for its social commentary, black humour and fine performances led by the very dependable Fiennes.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, John Leguizamo.

By Mayur Lookhar

Argh! For the third time in 2022, this reviewer feels jittery while penning a review. R. Balki’s Chup questioned film critics. Writer Mudassar Aziz’s Double XL urged media to choose their words carefully. Now comes the Hollywood film The Menu that would make food critics swallow their words. We’re foodie too, but not guilty of gluttony.

Writers Seth Reiss, Will Tracy offer their creative ingredients to director Mark Mylod to prepare The Menu. No buffet, no ala carte! The exotic dishes here are served rather shoved down their [guests] throats.

Tyler [Nicholas Hoult] takes his humble girlfriend Margot [Anya Taylor-Joy] to a remote island to savour the delicacies at the elusive Hawthorne restaurant, that is managed by celebrity chef Julian Slowik [Ralph Fiennes].  Tyler, Margot and other guests are initially enamored by the exotic dishes that are put on their table. But the subsequent courses are hard to digest for all.

It’s hard to find Michelin Stars here, but the Hawthorne arouses one’s curiosity over the nature of its chef Julian Slowik. The surname has its [maybe socialist] roots in Bratislava, Slovakia. Perhaps, he is among many who fled to the United States during one of the many wars that the region has witnessed over several decades. He is found a living, excelled in his craft, but the perfectionist is always consumed by his ego.

Slowik’s staff follow him like the Nazis obeyed Hitler. Jeez, for humans, Slowik’s staff functions like robots. Or maybe animals with Slowik as their ringmaster.  It’s the guest list though that makes The Menu interesting. There’s a vain movie star [John Leguizamo], his manager /girlfriend Felicity [Aimee Carrero]. a food critic [Janet McTeer], her editor Ted [Paul Adelstein], and few affluent men, both old and young. Save for Margot, the others are all powerful rich people capable of buying just about anything. Rich or poor, we all have our skeletons to hide.

The Hawthorne’s guests and the staff mirror a society that comprises of the wealthy who are served by the masses. The class divide is accentuated in a capitalist society.  Mark Mylod’s film challenges the social order. The Menu asks not just his guests but also the viewer, “Are you among those who give, or those who take?” The class conflict was tapped metaphorically in Netflix’s horror/thriller The Platform [2019] that turned Maslow’s hierarchy of needs on its head.

Not as brutal, but The Menu [2022] serves a fine social commentary in the garb of its black humour. Slowik impresses you with his perfectionist attitude, knowledge, attention to detail, but he’s an intimidating figure right through out the film. Tyler hails Slowik as not just a chef, but a story teller. Fiennes shows the finesse of a Master Chef who is in total control of his kitchen and the restaurant at large. It is not just his exotic dishes, but Slowik puts his sophisticated persona, too, on the table. Fiennes revels in the perfection, depravity of Slowik.

Fiennes’s fine show is matched by his co-actors, too, with Anya Taylor-Joy stealing a march over the chef at the end. She is the lone brave soul to tell Slowik that his fine delicacies are nothing but an intellect exercise. Don’t many societies have intellectuals who impose their will on most?

More than Slowik, it’s Elsa, his head of staff that is more intimidating. Hong Chau’s stuns you with her intensity.

The taut screenplay doesn’t really leave room for any loose ends. The tension though builds early on, with both the guests and viewer perhaps wishing for a quick end to the horror show. Nah, that’s no stretched screenplay, just the disturbing visuals on show. Certain scenes are clearly not for the faint hearted. It’s dark humour comes through the reaction of its guests who find themselves in a pressure cooker situation. Mylod and 20th Century Studios [Disney] also take a potshot at rival Sony – courtesy its movie star guest. Though minimal but Colin Stetson’s background score sums up the grim atmosphere. Do hang in till the end credits that play out to an intense score.

The items in The Menu will clearly not cater to many palates. This one is strictly for those seeking some food for thought.

The Menu [2022] is set to be released worldwide on 18 November.


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