By Ben Konuch
“You will eat less than you desire and more than you deserve.”
Surprisingly, 2022 has been a year full of fantastic horror and thriller films. From “Barbarian” to “Nope” to “Smile,” this year has produced many standout additions in these genres that have reinvented what it means to feel tension through film. So when I saw the first trailer for “The Menu”, a 2022 mystery/thriller/black comedy, I was hoping that it would appease my appetite, and it exceeded every expectation. “The Menu” has every key ingredient to make it a masterpiece, and without spoiling too much, I need to offer a tiny bite of what makes this movie so special and why you should taste it for yourself.
The appetizer of what makes “The Menu” so delicious is its story and basic premise. The film follows Margo, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, a young woman who has been invited to travel with her partner Tyler, played by Nicholas Hoult, to a gourmet dining experience hosted by celebrity chef Julian Slowik, played by Ralph Fiennes. This is an extremely high-class outing, and Margo quickly begins to feel out of place around Tyler’s fascination and knowledge of all things culinary which is echoed in many of the other guests that travel with them to the chef’s isolated island restaurant.
While there they are given a tour of the facilities and get a taste of the sheer commitment to the craft of creating edible art, but once they sit down to start sampling the night’s dishes, their experience takes a dark and viscous turn that throws each guest into personal turmoil. With each dish becoming more and more unsettling, Margo and the other guests begin to fear what the menu really has in store for them.
The main course of “The Menu” is without a doubt its standout performances. While the plot is entertaining and the script written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy is tense and seasoned with the perfect amount of dark comedy, it’s the brilliant acting that’s at the heart of the film. Anya Taylor-Joy plays Margo with a very realistic earnestness, and her discomfort at feeling like she doesn’t belong with these people is key to the movie’s very existence. If you’ve ever felt the uncomfortable feeling of being the odd man out then Margo is someone that you’ll immediately be able to empathize with. This sense of unease and feeling like an outsider is portrayed subtly and with ease by her, and when the events of the film take their dark turns, she handles every character shift and emotional complexity with captivating wonder.
Ralph Fiennes is the true standout flavor out of all the actors, though. The way he plays the eccentric and unsettling mannerisms of a genius celebrity chef is fascinating to watch. He is a master at conveying meaning through expression, playing a character that seldom speaks but almost always is communicating something to the audience. He’s sometimes scary, sometimes funny and sometimes a complete mystery, but he manages to steal every scene that he’s in. His character and motivations, the reasons why all these characters are suddenly locked into an increasingly disturbing night, are conveyed with a level of acting that is nothing short of a delicacy to behold.
The final course of a meal is the most important, the one that needs to bring everything together, and that final course for “The Menu” is its presentation. The presentation of food is a huge component of the overall dish, especially in gourmet dining, and “The Menu” has applied that same commitment to presentation into its very editing and pacing. Every dish that is served on screen is given a feature introduction clip that feels like it came out of a presentation scene from “Chopped” or “Masterchef.” While initially a bit jarring, these brief scenes help demonstrate the craft of the food being made throughout the film and what each dish was supposed to represent and helped solidify the tone of what “The Menu” was trying to emulate. The way this is established early in the film for each dish also gave incredible payoff moments in some of the film’s darkest moments, creating some of the most guilty laughter I’ve ever had in a movie theater.
In the end, “The Menu” isn’t fully thriller or comedy or even drama. These are instead the base ingredients that the film works with and uses to create an exciting, bleak, funny, and thought-provoking two-hour feast. It is a critique of opulence and greed, an expose of our culture’s biggest flaws, a darkly comedic journey, and a tense battle for survival all cooked into one immaculately acted meal. Sprinkle it with a bit of violence and a healthy serving of mystery, and “The Menu” is a film that you won’t easily forget and one that you wish you could taste for the first time again.
I give “The Menu” a 9.5/10.
“The Menu” is now playing in theaters.
Ben Konuch is a sophomore strategic communications student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and hanging out with crazy MuKappa friends.
Images courtesy of Searchlight Pictures