Written by Siddhartha Krishnan | 4 Min Read
The use of food allegorically in films always makes for an exciting proposition. In recent years, Assamese film ‘Aamis’ and Spanish film ‘The Platform’ comes to mind where food was used in ingenious ways to tell stories marinated in subtexts. While these films weren’t easy to watch, they were nevertheless entertaining. Director Mark Mylod’s ‘The Menu’ has a similar trajectory. OTT platform, Disney + Hotstar classifies it as horror. However, to me, it felt like a satire pretending to be a psychological thriller. To be fair, though, the film does have its horrific moments.
Moreover, the horror genre is so fluid that, to an imaginative writer, it offers the flexibility to play and invent. So in terms of newness, ‘The Menu’ is a compelling watch.
The storyline is twisted. A young couple, Margot (an escort) played by an excellent Anya Taylor – Joy and Tyler (a food blogger) played by Nicholas Hoult, travel to a faraway island to eat at an exclusive restaurant named Hawthorn, where celebrity chef, Julian Slowik, played by a menacing Ralph Fiennes, has prepared a lavish menu for his chosen guest list. Slowik serves a series of courses for dinner, and before each dish he delivers an unsettling monologue. The absurdity of it all, makes Margot wary about the chef’s intentions. He seems bull-headed, and his ‘loveless’ cooking doesn’t suit her palate. The other guests, however, aren’t as doubting. They think it’s all part of Slowik’s ‘act’!
The self-indulgent guests include a renowned food critic and her editor, a fallen movie star and his personal assistant, a group of young angel investors, and a wealthy couple who are regulars at the restaurant. To Margot’s dismay, her partner Tyler isn’t any better since he is an ardent fan of Slowik and can’t stop singing praises of him. It is not until the third course that Slowik’s true nature slowly begins to unravel. The movie gathers pace thereafter.
Much of the storytelling happens through conversations, and writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy have used absurdity in the scenes written to keep audiences guessing. But, at its core, ‘The Menu’ is a social satire, that uses elements of horror, and dark comedy to tell a story of human greed, man’s obsession with perfection, the elite’s ceaseless need to over intellectualize, and the death of passion at the altar of ambition.
In terms of cinematic language, ‘The Menu’ reminds you of Kubrick’s eccentricity in ‘The Shining’ and Bong Joon-Ho’s dark humor in ‘The Parasite’. Also, like those films, there is a lot to be mindful of as an audience because everything is there for a reason. So this film can be demanding at times.
Yet, ‘The Menu’ isn’t a perfect film by any means. Sometimes it tries too much to marry the amusing and the bizarre. I also felt that the supporting cast, should have had a greater role to play given their interesting backstories. Even so, whenever the film wavered slightly, there comes a scene to salvage the situation. For example, the way the restaurant staff were used to heighten the tension was enterprising. But the interactions between Slowik and Margot remain the most captivating parts of the film.
To sum up, ‘The Menu’ is an inventive film with an important message which comes through to the audience, at the very end, after the story has endured several twists and turns. It keeps you invested because the actors have done justice to their parts and the makers have been able to create several thrilling moments that will linger. I would recommend the film to audiences who like intelligently written thrillers that are more than what meets the eye.
If you want to know why a cheeseburger needs to be just that, nothing more and nothing less, then watch ‘The Menu’ on Disney+Hotstar.
IMDb rating – 7.3
My rating – 3.5/5
Siddhartha Krishnan is the author of Two and a Half Rainbows – A Collection of Short Stories.He is also an enthusiastic blogger, and on his website, www.whatsonsidsmind.com, you can find his travel diaries, food stories, book recommendations and movie reviews.
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