A deliciously thrilling film from director Mark Mylod, The Menu takes the concept of a food snob to the extremes when guests travel to a restaurant on a remote island for a once-in-a-lifetime meal from a renowned chef.
Ralph Fiennes plays Chef Slowik, the man at the head of this 12-person culinary experience at Hawthorne Island that costs $1,250 per person.
Among the guests who are willing the pay the steep price tag for Slowik's meal are Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), who is devout foodie, and his date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), who doesn't get particularly excited about food, but she's there after Tyler's invitation for the free meal.
There is also a former movie star played by John Leguizamo, Janet McTee plays a restaurant critic dining with her editor, played by Paul Adelstein. Anne and Richard (Judith Light and Reed Birney) are a wealthy couple who have eaten at the restaurant for years, and there is a group of obnoxious tech bros who really just enjoy making and spending money, played by Arturo Castro, Rob Yang and Mark St. Cyr.
Fiennes as Slowik sets the tone for what's to come when he instructs his guests to not eat the food but "taste" and "savour."
"The menu is too precious for that," he says.
The chef begins to rhyme off a flowery narrative for each course, while the sommelier pouring wine describes what the guests are drinking, including saying one wine has "a faint sense of loneliness and regret."
As this sort of pretentious dinner theatre goes on, it gets more absurd, unhinged and dark.
'Trying to perfect something and getting lost'
During the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September, writer Will Tracy, who wrote The Menu with Seth Reiss, revealed the initial idea for the film came from his honeymoon with his wife in Norway.
"I'm sort of, somewhat like, not as bad, but the Tyler character in the film, I'm annoyingly obsessed with food, and so whenever I go to a new city I try to search out, what's the place in town to go to," Tracy said during a Q&A following the film's TIFF screening. "Everyone said in Bergen, well the place you go to is, you make a reservation and then you wait on a dock, and this boat picks you up and takes you out 25 minutes to a private island, there's nothing on the island but the restaurant."
"So we went and I'm also kind of a grand champion claustrophobe, so when I got to the island I kind of had the moment that Margot has where she sees the boat pull away, and I realized I was going to be on this island for four hours...and anything could happen... I did say to [my wife] there at the table that this would be a good idea for something. People stuck in a restaurant who can't leave."
At the core of the Chef Slowik character is this concept of someone who has lost the reason why he loved to do something in the first place, in this case cooking.
"It's what life is about and everybody feels that at one point or another," Judith Light said at the TIFF screening in September."What's really valuable about that is that you question that."
"It can't come from the outside, it has to come from the question and the curiosity inside."
For Fiennes, he highlighted that he loves food but wouldn't want to pay for the kind of food his character makes in The Menu. Adding that what interests him is "the psychology of trying to perfect something and getting lost."
"He's lost touch with the thing that moved him to cook in the first place and Anya's character...in the end finally, that's the last few scenes, is her sort of reminding him," Fiennes said. "By provoking him, by standing up to him, she pushes him to reconnect."
What really ties The Menu together is the cinematography from Peter Deming, who was able to add dynamics and really build suspension, while the film largely has one location.
The Menu's script is clever and has this uniquely enthralling combination of horror and comedy, all based around this satire of the expensive restaurant experience. It has all the right ingredients to make this a diabolical but fun journey, not unlike a haute cuisine tasting menu.
The Menu is in theatres Nov. 18