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The Menu

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Consider that the meanest and greatest of our meals are most often larded with symbolic and familial undertones, then you can feel the weight of a satire like director mark Mylod’s The Menu, where haute cuisine meets the underbelly of life with its jealousies and sinister motives. Young couple Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) pay $1250 each to go with ten other high spenders to an exclusive Pacific-northwest restaurant called Hawthorn. No solos, no cells.

Their tour of the island is commanded by Chef Slowik’s (Ralph Fiennes) advisor and stoic leader of the Chef’s crew, Elsa (Hong Chau). As we might expect, the island is self-sustaining by growing its own vegetables and eating its home-grown meat, and of course fish of the sea. Ethan Tobman’s production design is impressively spare in its sharp corners and cold colors. Like the evening, it promises an uncompromising and menacing experience.

With mysterious chef Slowik, it’s exciting to say the least. While most of the guests are targeted for humiliation, the courses that follow are not only close to inscrutable but meant to impress and intimidate even the highest taste including that of food critic Lillian (Janet McTeer). For example, the second course has pickled seaweeds, algae, and raw diver scallops—a malevolent culinary experience for a last night in paradise.

The evening takes on a sinister menu itself with the chef’s Fascist attitude and the promise that they all will die that night, a plot turn we unfortunately learn too soon. Food to die for could be metaphor for the high quality of the evening or a flat- out prediction lacking any allegorical connotation.

Chef Slowik, played with finesse and subtle menace by Fiennes, resembles nothing short of a drill sergeant, of whom it’s hard to decide if he just role playing or a horror-story lead. His prefaces to the courses are fulsome and poetic but not comforting as individual guests are singled out for humiliation and the others hunker down in self-preservation.

As the evening progresses, the food becomes more esoteric, and the menace more pronounced. One of the slams at pretension has to be serving The Breadless Bread Plate, exposing to ridicule their obsession over the “filling” lower end of the haute cuisine.

The satire of class snobbery is present at each course, and the lampooning of the pretentious diners is remarkably accurate and off-putting. The Menu is another of the recent films that accentuate class tensions, e.g., Triangle of Sadness, and the exclusivity of wealth. Not without consequences; just let Chef Slowik prepare the menu.

The Menu

Director: Mark Mylod (The Big White)

Screenplay: Seth Reiss, Will Tracy

Cast: Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Northman)

Run Time: 1h 47m

Rating: R

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at JohnDeSando52@gmail.com

John DeSando holds a BA from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in English from The University of Arizona. He served several universities as a professor, dean, and academic vice president. He has been producing and broadcasting as a film critic on It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics for more than two decades. DeSando received the Los Angeles Press Club's first-place honors for national entertainment journalism.