Sun. May 28th, 2023

Don’t you just love good food? It’s the one thing everybody in the world can agree on. However, what if this “good food” involved being invited to a secluded island restaurant? A restaurant whose kitchen staff, maître d’, sommelier and chef have created a cult-like compound, instead of a welcoming place to wine and dine. If you ask me, I think I would rather head down to the local corner deli. At least there you have the assurance that you can walk out without getting murdered! 

Directed by Mark Mylod and starring Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult and Hong Chau, “The Menu” follows Tyler (Hoult), an avid foodie, and his girlfriend, Margot (Taylor-Joy), who journey to an off-shore island to partake in an elaborate dinner hosted by world-renowned yet reclusive chef, Julian Slowik (Fiennes). As soon as they arrive, however, things start to feel “off” as the staff show an unnerving reverence for Slowik and an understated coldness to the guests. Eventually, it’s revealed Chef Slowik may have more than a few screws loose, and the cast are a literal captive audience to his murderous designs.

As a thriller-satire, director Mark Mylod has done a bang-up job with his newest film! From the moment the characters arrive on Hawthorne Island, the filmmakers are committed to making the audience feel the suspense and tension that grows with each scene. It’s subtle at first, such as with Elsa, Hawthorne’s maître d’, who seems cold under her friendly demeanor as she guides the eclectic and bourgeois guests around the island before leading them to the restaurant proper. Eventually, it becomes more pronounced when Chef Slowik confronts Margot in the women’s restroom over her not eating anything that’s been served before reaching its crescendo when somebody violently dies. After this explosion of tension, the film continues with suspense as Margot tries to survive and outwit the mad staff of Hawthorne. 

In addition to being a thriller, “The Menu” is also a darkly satirical film and a social commentary with teeth! Writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy are ruthless in their satire and commentary, with the movie targeting foodie culture, food critics, celebrity culture, the service industry, haute cuisine, “tech bros” and the billionaire class. Two scenes in particular stand out. In one scene, the staff serve tortillas with each of the cast’s dark secrets lasered onto each tortilla, and when one of the tech bros asks what it is that they’re eating, Elsa happily and sarcastically replies, “tortillas!” Another scene involves Chef Slowik questioning where a character went to college, and when told that she went to an Ivy League school and didn’t take out any student loans, Chef Slowik reassures her in a deadpan tone that she will die tonight. 

The social commentary is about as subtle as a gun in “The Menu,” but it never comes off as ham-fisted. Chef Slowik and the other characters call attention to and offer personal opinions on topical ideas throughout the runtime. Primarily, the film is concerned with two issues: the service industry and class divisions. Once Chef Slowik and the staff make it clear their intent to kill their guests, they soon air their grievances about how cooking has been commodified and turned into a status symbol by the wealthy, taking the “magic” out of their craft. The class divisions are made clear when Chef Slovik talks to Margot about “those who make and those who take.” According to him, service-industry workers, “the makers,” ultimately sacrifice their own well-being to please patrons who will never see them as people, “the takers.” 

The Menu is a sinfully delicious film that, outside of a shaky final act, excels so much as a thriller that it rivals Hitchcock and serves up darkly appetizing satire!  

Kelly Baker is an alumnus of West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

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