The Menu (LFF Review) – If Gordon Ramsay Were Also Jigsaw

DIRECTOR: Mark Mylod

CAST: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Judith Light, John Leguizamo, Reed Birney, Paul Adelstein, Aimee Carrero, Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr, Rob Yang, Rebecca Koon, Peter Grosz

RUNNING TIME: 106 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15 TBC

BASICALLY…: A world-renowned chef (Fiennes) treats his exclusive guests to an evening of fine cuisine that slowly becomes more sinister…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

This review of The Menu was conducted as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2022.

The darkly comic culinary thriller The Menu was this year’s “Surprise Film” at the BFI London Film Festival, and in retrospect it’s kind of a perfect choice. The concept of the Surprise Film screening revolves around people paying for an experience that is completely unknown until the very last moment, so to get a movie with virtually the same set-up – albeit under wildly different circumstances – is almost poetic in how well it fits the bill. Furthermore, like past films selected to be the Surprise Film (including, among others, Uncut Gems, Lady Bird, Birdman and No Country for Old Men), it’s one that got the audience enthusiastically applauding as soon as the title card popped up, which is surely a definitive sign that, much like the characters in the actual movie, they are about to be in for something truly unique and special.

They did, as The Menu is a very entertaining kitchen horror with a pitch-black sense of humour and satire that’s far from subtle, but much like with Triangle of Sadness (another festival hit that plays with wealthy stereotypes) it is savoury enough just watching some terrible people get their just desserts.

Director Mark Mylod’s film, from a script by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, starts with a young couple, Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), getting ready to board a boat with a handful of other wealthy clients. Before you start screaming similarities to Triangle of Sadness, however, the boat is simply taking them to a nearby island where they have paid quite a lot of money to dine at a very exclusive restaurant, run by world-renowned Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). Tyler, a self-confessed foodie, is ecstatic to be within the same vicinity as his idol chef, while Margot – who comes from a slightly less advantageous background – couldn’t care less about the intricate choices that Slowik is about to offer his guests. She might have been onto something, because the initial few courses of Slowik’s carefully constructed menu plan are beyond ludicrous; for example, he serves up a bread plate with absolutely no bread, with only tiny condiments in its place. However, the evening soon takes a rather dark turn, and as Slowik’s true intentions are slowly revealed, with meals that grow more and more sinister, the guests find themselves trapped in an increasingly nightmarish environment that will ruin more than just their appetites.

Like Triangle of Sadness, part of the fun with The Menu is how it presents some obnoxious examples of the affluent community – in this case, we have a trio of entitled banker bros, a fading movie star (played by John Leguizamo) and his ambitious assistant (Aimee Carrero), a pretentious food critic (Janet McTeer), and a very WASP-y older couple (Judith Light and Reed Birney) – and pits them against a force of nature that causes them all to completely fall apart, like the meat on a slow-cooked short rib. That force of nature is Ralph Fiennes as a chef with the cult-ish authority of Gordon Ramsay, and the sadistic tendencies of Jigsaw (and, were this movie made ten years ago, absolutely would have been played by Kevin Spacey), a role that the actor relishes in at every available turn with a sinister performance that beautifully, and often hilariously, plays into the pretentiousness of high-class cookery that Reiss and Tracy’s take-no-prisoners script has a lot of fun poking fun at.

Beyond Slowik’s entirely ego-driven course choices – accompanied by close-up shots of the overly-artisan food like it’s an episode of Masterchef, with humorous text describing the ingredients – the film also makes amusing light of not just these affluent guests, but their own distasteful approaches to this ridiculous food; Nicholas Hoult’s character, for example, is openly condescending to his date about his supposed taste in fine cuisine, while being extremely sycophantic to his idol chef and his “art”, which he scoffs down nonchalantly even when people are starting to die or have their fingers brutally chopped off. At first, you wonder why he, or indeed most of the other wealthy guests, doesn’t even make an attempt to escape when bad stuff keeps happening, with only Anya Taylor-Joy’s level-headed “Margot” (in quotations because, is she?) being one of the only guests to see the danger past the fancy gelatine and scissor-speared chicken thighs.

Slowly, however, that’s where the real genius of The Menu comes to light: these rich customers simply don’t care. Sure, they’re freaked out by Fiennes’ increasingly unhinged manner, but at the end of the day they’re still paying for an experience that nobody else can afford, so their choice to stay is a twisted display of entitlement and status driven by curiosity as well as a desire – nay, a need – to appear better than everyone else. It isn’t surprising to find that one of the producers on this film is Adam McKay, because much like his own recent films The Menu delivers a dark, sobering look at our current society whilst also having a profound sense of humour about itself, which makes the grimmest moments of shocking violence all the more entertaining, like you’re watching the most high-end Saw movie ever made.

Sometimes, the characters will seem too much like black-and-white stereotypes, with few of them given enough backstory to flesh them out beyond their most basic attributes (only Anya Taylor-Joy, also great in this movie, seems like the most complete person out of the lot, even more so than Fiennes’ devilishly fun antagonist), but The Menu sticks the landing as a fun, dark, and – yes – delicious satirical thriller that will make your stomach churn in parts, but almost always leaves you hungry for more.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Menu is a very entertaining satirical thriller that relishes in its darkly comic depictions of the snobbery and entitlement of wealthy diners, who find themselves up against Ralph Fiennes’ fierce and sinister chef who’s like if Gordon Ramsay was also Jigsaw, but also finds time to comment on and ridicule the pretentiousness of high-class cuisine as well as the twisted desire to stay the course even when the worst things imaginable are happening.

The Menu will be released in cinemas nationwide on Friday 18th November 2022.

Did you like this review? Want to know when the next one comes out?

Sign up to our e-mail service today, and get our latest reviews and previews sent straight to your inbox!

Search from over ten years of movies here:

Other recent reviews:

Sting (2024, dir. Kiah Roache-Turner)

A mysterious little spider soon grows to terrifying sizes…

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024, dir. George Miller)

A young Furiosa attempts to make her way home in a post-apocalyptic wasteland…

The Garfield Movie (2024, dir. Mark Dindal)

The lazy cat Garfield comes face-to-face with his long-lost father…

The Strangers: Chapter 1 (2024, dir. Renny Harlin)

A couple find themselves tormented by masked intruders…

IF (2024, dir. John Krasinski)

A young girl develops the ability to see people’s imaginary friends…

Hoard (2024, dir. Luna Carmoon)

A troubled teen begins a dysfunctional relationship with an older man…

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024, dir. Wes Ball)

Many years after the reign of Caesar, an ape-ruled kingdom comes under threat…

The Fall Guy (2024, dir. David Leitch)

A Hollywood stuntman winds up on an epic misadventure during his latest gig…

Tarot (2024, dirs. Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg)

A group of teenagers find themselves haunted after messing with spiritual tarot cards…

The Idea of You (2024, dir. Michael Showalter)

A 40-year-old single mother begins a relationship with a much younger pop star…