The Menu is an entertaining horror satire with a marvelous ensemble cast but fails to deliver a slightly interesting punch line.
The Menu ’s vague synopsis – a couple travels to a remote island to try out a lavish menu with some shocking surprises – hints at how you should watch the movie without knowing anything, which reflects on the clever choice of casting a bunch of popular actors to grab the viewers’ attention right away. The face of Anya Taylor Joy or Ralph Fiennes stamped on the poster aren’t merely marketing tools, though, the two really are the soul of the movie, as well as the only two characters who actually seem to have a personality. The reason for that is clear from the get-go; a selected group of rich and egocentric guests set out to a coastal island for an exclusive dinner prepared by the mysterious and renowned Chef Slowik, (Ralph Fiennes). Among them is Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), an eccentric but not any less exuberant guest accompanying a young man after his ex-partner canceled on him. The reaction to Margot’s surprise attendance is the first of countless embarrassing situations that make The Menu so outrageously compelling.
The first 30 minutes aim at immersing us in the superficial, lavish personality of each of the luxurious guests – characters meticulously designed to annoy and cause viewers to roll their eyes every 30 seconds at full efficiency. The movie wants us to hate them and manages to do that masterfully, in a succession of cringeworthy scenes revolving around the guests. Like all fancy people with a superiority complex, it’s clear how all of those guests are wearing a thick, nearly impenetrable mask. Chef Slowik’s purpose, and consequently The Menu ’s intention, is to brutally rip those masks off. The film knows how to manipulate its audience, and while it doesn’t count too much on moments that are supposed to make people laugh out loud, the comedy lies in the movie’s efficacy at making fun of its characters. The Menu also knows when to catch viewers off guard with shocking violence. This culminates in a pivotal scene that represents the major tonal shift in The Menu, and although it’s the best moment in the film, it’s also the first and last time the violence is actually justified instead of being used for bland shock value.
The film then goes down the rabbit hole with a compelling satire on the rich, mostly when it focuses on the interaction between characters. Then again, the focus is mainly on the Chef and Margot. The unrelaxed and anxiety-inducing chemistry between the two characters delivers some of the most interesting moments in The Menu, mainly because both Taylor-Joy and Fiennes are visibly comfortable in their roles. Margot is the witty yet edgy protagonist who got more than she bargained for, and Chef Slowik is a terrifying anti-hero with understandable motivations. The interactions between the two are always as funny as they are intense and work as efficient pauses between moments of horror.
I’m saying “horror” because The Menu can easily be labeled as a horror film too. The movie doesn’t skimp on scenes of graphic violence and suspense but, unfortunately, most of them are terribly mishandled, offering little to nothing to the narrative beyond shock. They’re not upsetting, interesting, or even funny: they’re just there for the sake of being there. By the end of the film, these violent instances are so predictable and meaningless that the movie’s ending feels rather dull.
The fast-paced narrative works in The Menu’s favor because it keeps our eyes glued to the screen and, although the clumsy horror elements fail to deliver a good punch line, the characters remain loyal to their egocentric personalities until the end. The movie knows how to bring about a few laughs and its messages are conveyed effectively, it just doesn’t make the most of it when it comes to using violence as a good vehicle for comedy rather than shock. Thankfully, the great ensemble cast truly shines when it comes to delivering the unnatural, self-indulgent dialogues and remarks that make The Menu so worthwhile as an unconventional “Eat The Rich” satire. Once each of the guests’ masks finally falls, nothing is stopping the movie from going to hilarious extremes when addressing each character’s twisted motivations, and that’s when it works best.
The Menu was screened at the Festival do Rio on October 7-15, 2022. The film will be released globally in theaters on November 18.