Sunday , February 5 2023
The Menu

Film Review: Neither Real Horror nor Comedy are on ‘The Menu’

Billed as a “horror comedy,” The Menu disappoints on several levels. It has a great cast and an intriguing setup, but it never quite delivers.

The story involves a group of couples and business associates who are invited to an island to be served a special dinner by a world-renowned chef. The filmmakers were apparently aiming for a film with the feel of Get Out. However, the horror aspect really doesn’t get going until the second half. The comedy mostly falls flat.

The Menu

The film has an outstanding cast including Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel) as the demented Chef Slowik, and Anya Taylor-Joy (Last Night in Soho) as Margot, one of the unlucky guests. Nicholas Hoult (The Great) plays Margot’s boyfriend and Hong Chau (The Whale) plays the chef’s second-in-command. The strong supporting cast (with many familiar faces) who play the other guests also do admirable jobs. John Leguizamo (Moulin Rouge!) who plays The Actor was especially memorable. The cast was one of the things that drew me to this film.

The Story

The film begins as the guests for the special dinner gather at a dock to travel to an island where they will be served by Chef Slowik. Each couple or group seems to represent a different type of person or social level, including old money, social influencers, aristocracy, young executives, and more. When I saw Leguizamo as The Actor, I was convinced he was trying to channel Johnny Depp.

As the story progresses, it reveals that each guest has had some kind of influence on Slowik’s life.

A complication arises because Margot was not on the guest list. Her date broke up with his girlfriend, who was on Slowik’s list, and got Margot to come along instead. Slowik’s discovery of this initiates a physical and mental duel between the two which dominates the second half of the film.

The Problems

Chef Slowik has strange powers. He can dominate his staff with a single word or clap of his hands. They respond like automatons or zombies.

In his book 101 Things I Learned in Film School, screenwriter Neil Landau (Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead) suggests that in a fantasy film the audience will accept any rules put forward as long as they are clear and not changed partway through. But in The Menu, the strange powers of the chef are never really explained.

The Menu
Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult as a couple trapped by an insane chef

The chef’s motivations are also confusing. For instance, he invited The Actor to the dinner party because he went to see one of his movies after a long stint at work and hated the movie. Because of that he wants to kill him. Another group of guests is on his hit list because their boss loaned the chef the money to buy the island. In general, he is upset that he is world-famous despite most people never really “savoring” his food. It makes no sense.

As the story progresses and people are hurt, most of the guests just sit passively watching as terrible things happen around them. Also, no explanation for this strange behavior becomes apparent.

The Humor?

The humor mainly comes from text overlays describing each course of the meal. These start like actual menu entries but turn into humor which seems to break the fourth wall, as if the filmmakers aren’t taking this seriously.

The ending involves a cheeseburger. When I first heard “cheeseburger,” I was hoping this was a reference to an old SNL skit and crazy humor would ensue. No such luck.

The only really enjoyable aspect of the film was the superb acting, especially by leads Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy. That in itself, unfortunately, is not enough to save this film.

About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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