By Josh Taylor
Politicians, actors, finance bros, critics, and foodies all gather to worship the ground that Julian Stowik (Ralph Fiennes) walks on and dine at his private island restaurant. Searchlight Pictures' new black comedy thriller THE MENU is a film about an exclusive dining experience gone horribly wrong. It’s deliciously horrifying and tensely funny. What makes this fine dining film such a thrill is how it balances all of the genres it looks to take on, fitting somewhere between horror and a laugh-out-loud romp. In a press conference for the film director Mark Mylod stated “Instinctive in reading the script, I think one of the things that drew us all to the project was that lovely mashup of tones. It's quite a small target to hit. But we were all attracted to how specific that was.” If this was a TV show, you’d almost have to consider THE MENU a “bottle episode” meaning that a majority of this movie takes place, not just on a remote island, but basically in one room, the restaurant of Julian Stowik. Within this singular setting are themes of romance, social commentary, comedy, horror, suspense, and definitely foul play.
What makes the film interesting is the acting. Each table in the restaurant has its own story, but all of them lend to the larger narrative at play. One of the stand-out performances of the film comes from John Leguizamo who plays a washed-up movie star who’s looking to reinvigorate his career because he needs the attention and fame. On his character, he said, “I'd seen these privileged guys and these guys who come into a room with so much narcissism like they suck the oxygen out of the room because they want all the attention and everything's got to be on them, otherwise they turn negative. So that's what I was trying to create because it doesn't naturally come to me.” Interestingly, THE MENU was shot in chronological order, something that rarely happens while making a film, but because it takes place mostly in one place the production was able to shoot that way. On that note, star Anya Taylor-Joy stated, “I think it helped us immensely because there's a very specific turning point in the film where things do start to get dramatically darker. And up until that point, we'd all been having quite a nice, if odd dinner party. And then the way that this scene was shot was so visceral, I think it kind of shocked all of us when it happened. That led us down the new tone of the film. Less of the laughs, more of the gasps really. So I think it really helped us carry that through.”
I can’t deny the star power of Anya Taylor-Joy at this point in her career, but in a film that features John Leguizamo, Ralph Fiennes, and Nicholas Hoult sitting across the table from her, she steals every scene she is in and proves why she was cast as the leading lady. We watch her character, Margot, transform throughout the film. Her co-star Nicholas Hoult also turns in a fantastic, and at times, fearsome performance, and Ralph Fiennes nails the Gordon Ramsey-esque role of Chef Stowik, both in his frantic outbursts and in his calm anger. Hong Chau, also starring in The Whale this year, delivers a cold, calculated, but hilarious performance with her role as the Chef’s assistant who welcomes the restaurant’s visitors and assists them with their needs, even when they don’t really want any help.
Ultimately, THE MENU isn’t just a film about a chef and his restaurant, but it’s a commentary on the current world. It’s an accessible film with themes that many will quickly understand. THE MENU pulls no punches either. “I think it's a great commentary on the privilege that's happening in America, and entitlement and people creating an 'us vs. them' and I love them getting their punishment in this flick,” states Leguizamo.
THE MENU is now playing in the theaters.