I went into The Menu expecting nothing more than a breezy two-hour thriller. I’d get to see Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy chew up the scenery and spill some blood; I’d never have to think about the film again. I was surprised to discover, about a half hour in, that I was in for much more than that. The Menu is one of the smartest, most self-aware, entertaining thrill rides of the past few years.
Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult star as a couple who go to a posh well-reviewed restaurant on a private island. Dinner takes a turn for the worse when the intimidating head chef, played by Ralph Fiennes, has other plans for the night. The film is a twisty, meta affair that plays like a fusion of David Fincher’s The Game and Craig Zobel’s The Hunt. I’ll spare any more details.
The breakout stars of The Menu are writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, who both come from comedy backgrounds. They use dark humor to craft wicked-sharp social commentary. This follows the recent trend set by Jordan Peele in Get Out and John Krasinski in A Quiet Place. Reiss and Tracy’s writing employ a scattershot approach, taking aim at critics, artists, film, the wealthy, and the service industry to great effect.
Like Halina Reijn’s recent film, Bodies Bodies Bodies, the funniest moments in the movie come when out-of-touch characters deliver absurdly pretentious lines. These pit the audience against certain characters, while spotlighting behavior we all know too well. Along with the writing, Mark Mylod’s direction and Peter Deming’s camerawork is excellent. The depiction of different dishes being prepared and served rivals real cooking shows, and the decision to use title cards for each course is amazing (and leads to several payoffs).
The cast is full of standouts as well. In her portrayal of the character Margot, Anya Taylor-Joy is, as always, absolutely captivating. She is brought along to the dinner by Tyler, a wealthy foodie, played by Nicholas Hoult. An outsider in this elitist world of fine dining, Margot acts as a proxy for the audience, before coming into her own as a fascinating foil to the head chef. In the role, Ralph Fiennes delivers a truly awards-worthy performance, conveying deep emotion and trauma beneath a cold demeanor.
The Menu is not only wildly entertaining, but legitimately excellent. It’s funny, exciting, and features some of the best writing of the year. The leads are charismatic, the scares effective, and the message clear. Come in blind and hungry, and The Menu will serve up a tasty dish full of twists and turns, with a large helping of humor on the side.