The Menu seeks to skewer a variety of easy targets. From stuffy food critics, frat bros that aren’t afraid to flaunt their wealth, celebrities with an overblown sense of self importance and those with a general sense of entitlement.
As far as satires goes, The Menu has a smorgasbord of options to devilishly dice up in this horror-tinged drama. But the filmmakers get a little too swept up in spoofing the upper elite’s pretentiousness that The Menu ends up being just as bloated, self-indulgent and dull.
After months of trying to get a reservation, Tyler (Nicholas Hoult, X-Men: Dark Phoenix) and Margot (Anna Taylor Joy, Last Night in Soho) finally to take part in a most exclusive dinner party. They’re whisked away to the island restaurant where Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes, The King’s Man) and his staff whip up the most elaborate multi-course meal imaginable.
While Margot is unimpressed, Tyler is fanboying out at every word Slowik utters.
The rest of the dinner guests are an eclectic crew from a noted food critic (Janet McTeer, Jessica Jones); a fading actor (John Leguizamo) and a couple (Reed Birney and Judith Light) celebrating their anniversary.
Slowik runs a tight kitchen and he’s not afraid of crossing the boundaries with his dinner guests. Thankfully he’s got an assistant, Elsa (Hong Chau, Watchmen), who’s just as direct but gentler with her social skills to act as a buffer.
For the first half, Director Mark Mylod (Game of Thrones) creates a tension-filled sense of uneasiness.
Mylod sets that up wonderfully with little touches like Slowik passive aggressively letting diners know he’s hearing their conversations and various side conversations offering glimpses into the characters.
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As effective as the first half’s setup, the second act quickly proves just as frustrating. Screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy seemed to put all their effort into establishing the premise without working out the numerous narrative kinks.
Slowik takes a more aggressive approach to the meals and Margot’s unexpected presence. And soon blood gets added to the menu.
The character interplay and dialogue that proved so inviting early on starts to become a burden and problems start popping up.
A major one is how quickly the characters are resigned to their fate. There’s not nearly enough push back or resistance once this dinner goes off the rails. And just as bizarre are the instances when characters simply go along with Slowik’s commands as if he’s hypnotized them.
Another significant problem is Slowik’s end game doesn’t call for anyone to survive the night. This is where the underdeveloped script’s deficiencies really stand out. While some of the characters are obnoxious and have done some shady things, it doesn’t quite rate to the point that they need to be killed.
And there’s at least two characters who are completely innocent of any wrongdoing making Slowik’s plan seem needlessly cruel and sadistic.
This would probably be less aggravating if the performances were lousy, but the game cast is locked in. Taylor-Joy and Fiennes’ scenes are a highlight while Leguizamo has mastered delivering memorable performances in a supporting role.
Mylod’s direction is just as solid with some clever moments like a showcase shot of the various meal courses. But tinges of Mylod losing sight of the satire and feeling like his film is offering up something incredibly insightful starts to ruin all the early fun.
The Menu starts off intriguing, but eventually gets too bogged down becoming the very thing it’s spoofing.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Searchlight Pictures
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