From Searchlight Pictures comes the latest in modern horror, The Menu (2022). While the description seems pretty cut and dry, the film is a delectable surprise with a fresh take on an increasingly popular theme. (Excuse the food puns.)
The premise may feel familiar: “a young couple visits a remote island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where the acclaimed chef has prepared a lavish menu with some shocking surprises.” It immediately seems reminiscent of stories like The Greatest Game or The Hunt. I walked into the theater with a pretty good idea of what I’d get. But, much like the patrons in the story, I was completely and totally wrong.
What is on The Menu?
Normally, I try to spoil as little as possible about a film. For The Menu, I’m going to make an exception. I won’t tell you what is on the menu, but I can tell you what’s not on the menu.
This film has absolutely zero cannibalism in it.
Based on the synopsis and the trailer, I thought it was pretty much a given that the “shocking surprises” on the menu would be humans; these people pay to go to an island, they get picked off by the staff, and then forced to eat each other—a literal interpretation of “eat the rich.” At every turn of the movie, I expected the next course to have the big reveal, but—while the film has plenty to say about the rich and powerful—it approaches from a drastically different angle.
There’s no shocking plot twist or last minute reveal that changes the entirety of the film; it’s simply a well-told story that wasn’t what I’d anticipated. So if you’re hesitating to buy tickets because you’re sure you know what you’re in for, or because cannibalism and literal metaphors aren’t your style, I strongly encourage you to accept Chef Slowik’s invitation to the experience.
All The Ingredients of a Good Horror Film
It takes a lot to make a good horror film: suspense, action, levity, purpose. The Menu has all of these in good measure, from a diverse cast of characters with their own sordid backgrounds to humorous title cards that describe each course of the meal. But without a doubt, the star component is its cast. With a trio like Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Nicholas Hoult, its impossible not to be intrigued, and all three serve incredible performances in the film.
I’m sure it’s sentence that far too many people have typed, but Anya Taylor-Joy is a joy to watch as Margot. It never fails to amaze me how an actress so beautiful and glamorous can seem so immediately relatable. From the very start, she portrays a grounded final girl who is capable and easy to root for. Margot is an outsider amongst all these rich, egotistical foodies, ignorant to the technical terms they throw around as they criticize the flavor profile of each dish.
More than that—she’s completely unrepentant. There’s none of the insecurity or eagerness to please that’s typical of a “girl-next-door” final girl. Even when things start to go wrong, Margot hardly loses her composure. She may be shaken and reeling, but she accepts her situation and is always analyzing her options.
Ralph Fiennes is a perfect complement as Chef Slowik. He has a similar, unrepentant demeanor, but the reality is that his whole story is about repentance. Odd and monstrous as he might seem, Fiennes does an incredible job displaying subtle emotions that give deep insight into his character. Meanwhile, Nicholas Hoult is perfectly despicable as Tyler, playing the exact kind of character we all love to hate.
It should come as no surprise that The Menu has plenty to say about privilege. It explores the danger of ego, the pleasures we take for granted, and the void left behind when we devote ourselves to pleasing and impressing a class of people who will never be satisfied.
I say “we,” but the film is not about us. There’s a comforting irony that comes with watching this film in theaters—watching the characters dissect the flavor profile and meaning of each dish, while you yourself are eating popcorn by the handful. Collectively, we are Margot: yearning for a good cheeseburger instead of the eloquence of a breadless bread plate. The film is clear in telling us, “This punishment is not for you.”
Instead, it’s about the elite taking responsibility for themselves—for their own faults, crimes, and shortcomings. That might be the most far-fetched part of the plot, but it’s also one of the best.
While The Menu definitely has similarities to The Greatest Game and The Hunt, there were plenty of other films that came to mind in the theater. The Menu bears a striking resemblance to Midsommar in some ways, including the architecture, the cult-like mentality of the group, and a big finish. Though many may disagree, to me, The Menu is what I wished Midsommar had been. It’s just as high-minded and beautiful, but still relies on a certain wit and humor to keep things enjoyable.
What I never expected was to walk out saying, “You know, it reminded me a bit of Ready or Not.” If you’ve read The Fan Room’s review of The Invitation (2022), we’ve discussed this emerging sub-genre in modern horror. Different as the circumstances may be, The Menu fits right in: a gorgeous girl in a fancy dress survives a night where rich people are trying to sacrifice her. Then, the building burns down.
And this time around? I loved it just as much.
The Menu is now playing in select theaters, and officially releases this Friday, November 18, 2022. Tickets on sale now.