Is there any way to kick off a new year than with a dark comedy/horror/satire that doesn’t fit well into any one genre? First film of the week, month, and year brings us all of these elements, and gives us the eating our veggies feeling of crossing off a resolution. Sort of. We’re dedicating the month to films with awards buzz before the season begins properly, so we can at least sound extremely sophisticated when people ask for film recommendations at parties. You know–at all of those parties we attend.
A group of wealthy diners look forward to an evening at a highly exclusive restaurant, though its head chef has more sinister intentions.
If you’re obscenely wealthy, sailing to a private island with no cell phone reception just seems like a necessary part of a luxury dining experience, and not at all like a horror setup. Margot and her date Tyler are two of the lucky twelve set to savor a dinner at the exclusive Hawthorn, where the meal is prepared specifically for the guests in attendance and will cost upwards of $1,000 each.
Just like the high school clique breakdown, you’ve got your classic rich people crowds: the rich older couple, the food critics, the business bros, and the former Hollywood A-lister. Margot seems to be the only member of the party not familiar with how the other half lives, though she plays it cool as…an oyster with lemon caviar. She’s also the only one not particularly impressed with the prestige of the head chef and his highly conceptual dishes.
Following a tour of the island where all of the staff live and work (in a setting that feels very much like a penitentiary), the guests look forward to their meal. Tyler is among the most insufferable of the bunch, which is a tall order. He takes so much pride in being a true appreciator of Chef Slowik that he feels the need to show off and gain the chef’s approval. Naturally, the chef instinctively disdains Tyler–though he shows similar levels of condescension to all of the guests.
Starting things off with the mean but hilarious breadless bread plate, Chef Slowik’s only remaining joy seems to be disappointing and belittling his guests. The chef is keenly aware of all requests and every criticism, taking an inquisitor’s delight in responding quite sadistically.
If you’ve seen any promotions for this film, it’s perhaps not shocking when it turns out the chef’s intentions to torture his guests move far beyond cutting words. How many of those on the island will live to see the dessert course?
4/5 Pink Panther Heads
Given the timing of this film, The Menu has gotten a lot of comparisons to Glass Onion. Some of these are valid, though I would argue The Menu is significantly darker. In my personal opinion, this also makes it a bit more fun to watch–though admittedly Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes, and Nicholas Hoult is dream casting and a major reason the film works. Any time Ralph Fiennes smiles and calmly explains something, I am terrified. Nicholas Hoult’s Tyler is by far the most insufferable of our leading characters, however.
What I appreciate about this is that, like Glass Onion, it does draw some inspiration from Agatha Christie; I’m reminded in particular of And Then There Were None. Except in this update, we know quite early on who the murderer is and are eagerly awaiting quite a few of the deaths. The importance of etiquette carries over too, as if from a bygone era–and it sort of is. While the kitchen is rather autocratic and cultish, so too is the behavior of the guests, who even pay their checks after an evening of psychological and physical torture.
The humor is pitch black, and I laughed out loud pretty consistently. Some of my favorite quotes out of context:
“I usually don’t like foam, but…”
“The memory of your face in that film…haunts me.”
“As Dr. King said, ‘We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.'”
I will say some of the elements do come together a bit too conveniently, particularly for our girl Margot, but this isn’t enough to lessen my enjoyment of the film.