If you’re browsing the current movie showings at your local cinema, looking for a new release to sink your teeth in, “The Menu” is the perfect special — though it might leave a bitter taste in your mouth.
Starring recent Hollywood cool girl Anya Taylor-Joy and “Skins” alumni Nicholas Hoult, the Mark Mylod-directed film does an excellent job at painstakingly building tension, then coming with the knife when the audience least expects it. Set in a gourmet restaurant on a deserted island, a group of ritzy diners descend into madness when they realize that a fancy meal they set out for might be their last. The atmosphere feels “Survivor”-esque, while drawing on heavy themes from “Midsommar,” but still creating a unique yet horrific plot.
Coming into Hawthorne, the exclusive eatery where the film is set, Margo (Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Hoult) represent two opposite mindsets going into such a fancy place. Margo is doubtful and snide, not seeing the point in participating in the phony, high-class small-portioned mind games head chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fieness) presents through his food. On the other hand, Tyler is ecstatic, analyzing and worshiping every morsel set down in front of the couple, taking obnoxious photography with his phone in typical tourist fashion.
The myriad of diners accompanying the two for the evening also do an excellent job of poking fun at “foodie critic” culture. Among the guests is Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer), the writer that helped make Slowik famous — but has gotten restaurants shut down due to her negative press in the past. When things start to turn bloody and Slowik’s true colors start to show, she defends him and his actions, chalking them up to performance art. “He’s doing it to benefit us,” she claims.
None of the other guests — including three “finance bros,” a rich, older couple and a movie star past his prime — fight back too hard against Slowik when his courses start to turn evil, causing harm to the diners themselves. The movie seems to take a stance on how far people with money will go to enjoy something that is supposedly “high class,” ignoring the fact that in reality, what they’re getting served is mundane and void of meaning.
In a capitalistic world that is quickly becoming reliant on name-dropping wealthy connections to push one’s personal brand further, “The Menu” laughs at the emptiness of saying you know someone or getting the chance to dine at certain restaurants over others. It mocks the “daddy’s money” troupe — the line “Don’t you know who I am?” is used — and the silly, “avant-garde” things that can be attractive to people who don’t have to worry about making it day-to-day.
The cultural critique is perfectly blended with tastefully-placed jumpscares, the perfect component to any horror movie in the genre’s modern scope. The dark humor is also generously scattered throughout the film like a handful of salt placed on top of one of Slowik’s dishes; you’ll laugh out loud one second, then be hiding your eyes the next. The concept of a murderous hostage situation happening in a five-star restaurant is ridiculous enough, but “The Menu” takes this outlandish concept and creates a modern-day classic; the taste that this film leaves in your mouth will be hard to get out after watching.