Sunday 8 January 2023

REVIEW: The Menu (2023) - Stars Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult

Review by Jon Donnis
I first head about The Menu when it first aired at the Toronto International Film Festival, all the right people seemed to love it, your snotty film critics, Guardian readers etc, so it was always going to get attention when the final release came along.

Well, it has finally been released in the UK at selected cinemas and on Disney +, so I thought I would check it out. The general synopsis talks about the film "focusing on a young couple who visits an exclusive destination restaurant on a remote island where the acclaimed chef has prepared a lavish tasting menu, along with some shocking surprises."

Advertised as a horror/thriller, if like me, you are instantly thinking this will be an all our horror film full of twists, which will undoubtably end up with someone rich people eating brains, well you will be disappointed. Unfortunately, there is no eating of the brains, and for fans of Silence of the Lambs, there is also no "Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti". So, before you watch, get those expectations right down, or you will be disappointed. This is not a gross out horror film, and although there are some horror moments, at best it is just a weird, creepy thriller, that is almost the tale of a cult, than it is anything else.

Ok, let's get into the film itself.

Margot Mills (Anya Taylor-Joy ) and her companion Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) take a boat to the luxurious restaurant on a secluded island called Hawthorn, the restaurant that is, not the island.. The chef, a famous celebrity named Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), runs the place and has invited a group of guests including: Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer), a food critic and her editor Ted (Paul Adelstein ); the wealthy couple, Richard (Reed Birney) and Anne Leibrandt (Judith Light); George (John Leguizamo), a former movie star, and his personal assistant Felicity (Aimee Carrero); business partners Soren (Arturo Castro), Dave (Mark St. Cyr), and Bryce (Rob Yang); and Julian's alcoholic mother. The group is given a tour by the maître d'hôtel, Elsa (Hong Chau), who mentions that Margot was not the intended date for Tyler.

The dinner begins and Chef presents a series of courses, each accompanied by disturbing monologues about the dish. As the night progresses, the guests' secrets, including infidelities and embezzlement, are revealed. During the fourth course, a sous chef commits suicide in front of the guests and another staff member cuts off Richard's finger when he tries to flee. After the fourth course, the restaurant's main investor, who is also the boss of Soren, Dave, and Bryce, is drowned in front of the diners. At various points in the evening, Julian allows the guests to try and escape, only to have them caught and brought back by the staff.

It is worth noting that nothing really happens of interest for the first 40 minutes. If I said to you, "a bunch of privileged rich people go to a Restaurant to eat some fancy food", you know as much as you need to know. After 40 minutes the things start getting interesting.

The film then devolves into some kind of moral story of how the Chef has lost his love for cooking and the people invited to eat are the cause for this. So, they are all going to be punished.

Now I don't want to spoil things any more than I have already, but there are no clever "punishments" of the guests outside of the final scene, and someone getting a finger chopped off when he tried to escape. Everyone is basically healthy until the last moment, and even then, the big finale feels like a bit of a let-down.

I think the problem here is that I had expectations for a certain kind of film, due to the advertisements, which is simply not delivered. It is NOT a horror film. There are no moments that you will be speaking about with people at the water cooler the next day at work. There is nothing that you want to run to Twitter to twitter to talk about, and ultimately no single moment that will stay in your mind for more than an hour after you have finished watching.

With that said, there film is perfectly watchable, and is entertaining. The characters are all well-defined, and play their parts well. The stand out for me has to be the restaurant maître d'hôtel, Elsa. She really deserved a bigger role, and a more evil one at that.

The ending left me rather underwhelmed, and disappointed that there was no big twist, or clever finale.

The Good
The movie looks great, it is well filmed and directed, the characters are all well-acted. And as a moral story it has some value.

The Bad
I wanted a horror film that would make me watch through my fingers, I wanted a film that would make me question what I would eat for the next week. I wanted to be grossed out. Unfortunately, the film failed on all of those things, I created disappointment, when the film never really promised those things, even if it alluded to them.

Once you know what the film really is about, and you don't expect one thing and then get something else, then you can enjoy it. Just remember it is NOT a horror film. It is just a thriller about a celebrity chef who gets annoyed that he is not appreciated enough.

I score The Menu a disappointing 6/10. Just not what I expected, and not something I would talk to others about outside of this review.

Out now in selected cinemas, Disney + and iTunes at