For Ralph Fiennes’ character chef Slowik in Mark Mylod’s The Menu, revenge is a dish best served on a crescent of edible puce foam and with an air-fried chicory wafer balancing on top. We are bussed directly into a minimalist lifestyle world of elite fine dining where a gesticulating gaggle of one-dimensional nasties have managed to secure a table at the world-famous seat of experimental gastronomy – Hawthorne. Slowik acts as master of ceremonies for a sense-challenging, multi-course cavalcade of disruption and discord, as his fiendish concoctions come with built-in moral lessons and are intended to challenge any and all preconceptions we have about food.
Unlike Slowik, whose murderous fixation with subtle flavour combinations has driven him to creative frenzy, Mylod, along with screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, are very keen to show the dull simplicity of their working early on. It’s clear from the opening preamble that some twisted shit is about to go down, as Hong Chau’s maître is openly aggressive and patronising towards the guests before they’ve even had a chance to take a seat. In the aggressively polite world of dining – fine or otherwise – this rings a very false note, and it’s one that is repeated throughout a film in which the makers don’t really have any answer for why the diners remain in place to be abused.
The film can be summed up as, what if one of the bad Saw sequels took place in a restaurant not dissimilar to Copenhagen’s conceptually-enlightened Noma? Slowik, for reasons that are never made clear, rolls out a tasting menu he considers to be his pièce de résistance, and rather than provide his punters with the simple enjoyment that comes from sustenance, he is more interested in prodding the metaphorical sores of their private backgrounds and humiliating them for petty moral infractions where the punishment far outweighs the crime.
Perhaps unintentionally, The Menu is a film that assumes a conservative political stance in asking us to cheer on the ritual torture of sundry tech bros, food critics, a man who has committed infidelity, an over-the-hill film actor, and an extreme foodie played by Nicolas Hoult who just doesn’t seem to be of this planet.
Our one locus of respite within this gang of deplorables is Anya Taylor-Joy’s Margot, who was invited by Hoult’s character on a whim and is not part of chef Slowik’s grand scheme. The pungent whiff of designer cynicism pervades every scene, so not only is it difficult to understand why these diners aren’t taking their business elsewhere (which they absolutely would do if they’re the capitalist scum we’re told they are), but it’s difficult to give two hoots as to whether they stay or go.
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Published 16 Nov 2022