The Menu (2022)
Directed by Mark Mylod
Story by Will Tracy
Written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy
Run Time: 106 mins
Ralph Fiennes as Chef Slowik (Chef)
Anya Taylor-Joy as Margot (Tyler’s date)
Nicholas Hoult as Tyler (Margot’s date)
Hong Chau as Elsa (Chief staff member and restaurant spokesperson)
Janet McTeer as Lillian Bloom (food critic)
Paul Adelstein as Ted (the food critic’s assistant)
John Leguizamo as Georgie Diaz (the movie star)
Aimee Carrero as Felicity (the movie star’s assistant)
Judith Light as Anne (the wife)
Reed Birney as Richard (the husband)
Rob Young as Bryce (elite investor)
Mark St. Cyr as Dave (elite investor)
Arturo Castro as Soren (elite investor)
Budget $30M Box Office $74.7M
IMDb 7.3/10 Rotten Tomatoes 89% Metacritic 71/100
This was a movie that I wanted to see strictly because of the previews. Many times there is a certain actor or theme that will entice me to watch something but this time it was the creepy mysterious way the previews presented the film.
The general premise of the movie is that a bunch of wealthy upper-class people make reservations at what is considered to be an extremely exclusive restaurant on a private island to be served food prepared by an elite and highly revered chef and staff. They are expecting the evening to be a quiet and lavish dining experience. As you might guess, the evening does not go as the guests planned which delivers to viewers a film chock full of “OMG!” and “WTF?” moments.
This exclusive fine dining event separates eleven people into five guest tables. First, we have a husband and wife, Richard and Anne. These are two older people, in their sixties or seventies maybe. They come off as a stuffy, bitter couple who don’t seem to even enjoy being around each other, let alone still love one another. They present as cold and detached from not only each other but everyone around them, seemingly living in their own little bubble. They are also regular guests at this establishment, having dined at Hawthorne eleven times in the last five years. Getting reservations at this establishment is such a rare and special occurrence that most people only get to dine there once, maybe twice. They’ve come to this place eleven times at $1250 per plate. Wow.
Next is the ever-revered and feared food critic, Lillian Bloom, and her trusty yes-man sidekick editor, Ted. These two are clearly floating in their own world of elitism, believing that their culinary knowledge and egotistical wit set them above even the average wealthy socialite. They gab back and forth with each other, providing us with the culinary critical sludge-like commentary that shows just how much above the rest of the guests they believe themselves to be. With precise articulation, they hurl the typical slurry of judgment as they dissect every detail about the restaurant, the food, and the staff.
Then we have the table where the movie star, named Georgie Diaz, and his assistant, Felicity, are seated. He’s the stereotypical aging actor whose career is on the downhill slide. His assistant is leaving his employ to start a new career outside of the movie business. This movie star is constantly trying to convince himself that he is still well known and beloved everywhere he goes. He uses his dying fame to intimidate or impress people and to garner special treatment and favor whenever possible. Felicity appears to be somewhat quiet and reserved yet she certainly has a bit of sass at various times when she speaks to her boss.
At another table, we have Tyler and Margot, a young couple out on what seems like a first date. They are, what I would consider, the main couple of the movie. Tyler is a complete “foodie”, obsessed with every aspect of the experience of dining at this establishment. So much so that he gets annoyed when Margot tries to smoke a cigarette before they go in. He chastises her, telling her that smoking will ruin her palate and she won’t be able to fully experience and enjoy their very expensive dinner. He continues to bombard Margot with little tidbits of knowledge about anything culinary or about Chef Slowik while alternating between condescension and hurling insults at her. He seems to enjoy “educating” Margot and the feeling that his grasp of the verbiage, utensils and appliances used in the profession elevates him over his date, who is not elite upper-class in his eyes. Conversely, Margot is just a regular young woman with a great deal of spunk and wit fueled by the independent fire of her vim and vigor. She certainly has no problem speaking her mind, standing up for herself, or calling people out on their bullshit. Clearly, she feels somewhat out of place among all of these rich superiority-driven socialites. However, it is also very apparent that she doesn’t let things like a perceived socioeconomic status rattle or bother her.
Three young men are seated at the final table reserved for guests that I have chosen to dub “the silver spoon gang” although many online have taken to calling them the “finance boys”. These men all work together in the cutthroat and crooked world of finance. They too feel that their position with their boss, Doug Verrick, who financed the restaurant so Chef could stay open during COVID (the angel investor), the amount of money they make, and the perks they enjoy prove their superiority over everyone else, especially anyone working in the service industry. These are money-men who drop their boss’s name to influence or intimidate people into doing what they want.
Chef Slowik is the brains and talent behind his exclusive restaurant, Hawthorne. He has an assistant that also fills the role of maître d’hôtel. Her name is Elsa. Elsa is the main liaison between the Chef, the staff, the restaurant, and the guests. She is a very stoic woman with a profound allegiance to Chef. Elsa comes off as odd, not personable, and very serious. Likewise, Chef Slowik comes off the same way. His softer tone and stiff smile are coated in a feeling of contempt and the pleasantness comes across as artificial and fraudulent.
Chef is a man that began his passion for the culinary arts at a relatively young age. His many years of dedication along with his exceptional creativity and witty expertise have led him to a point of success that allowed him to open Hawthorne. Hawthorne is an exclusive fine dining restaurant that never repeats any dish they’ve served, gets most of the elements of each dish from the island itself (from the protein to the garnish), and strives to offer the most unique culinary experience to each of their guests by focusing on the philosophy and metaphorical aspects of each creation served. Each dish has a meaning, a purpose, and a certain experience it is supposed to create for the diners. An all-encompassing escapade meant to stimulate anything and everything that lives inside a person’s mind, body, and soul. At least that is Chef’s goal and what he strives for in his perfection.
The guests take a private boat from the mainland to the island where they are each personally greeted by Elsa and addressed individually by name. Except for Margot. Margot was a last-minute addition by Tyler whose date broke up with him between scheduling the exclusive reservations and the actual evening of the dinner. So instead, she is addressed as “Ms. Westervelt”. Because Chef Slowik does not offer seating for one at his restaurant, Tyler had to find a replacement date. Margot was the lucky one Tyler chose to be his date. While waiting for the boat, Margot steps aside and lights a cigarette. Tyler criticizes her and tells her that smoking will ruin her palate and she won’t be able to truly experience the food. She begins to protest. That’s when Tyler gives her a kind of scolding look, almost as if it were a warning (like a parent gives a child when the child is about do something they are not supposed to do), and sternly asks her to please not smoke. She stamps out her cigarette and the boat arrives, which distracts the awed foodie, Tyler, whose excitement is immediately renewed by its arrival.
Once they are on the island, Elsa greets them, takes verbal notice that Margot is not Tyler’s original named date, and then takes them on a tour of the island. The tour is a way to showcase the work and dedication that goes into preparing and presenting the evening’s menu. They walk the beach, told that the fishermen in the little boat they see are harvesting scallops for the night’s dinner service. They walk through a garden area where Tyler fawns over the fresh vegetables and herbs. The guests are shown the smokehouse where the chefs age their meat for over one hundred fifty days. They have bee hives for honey production. They utilize everything on the island they can, leaving nothing to waste.
After the tour, the guests are ushered into the dining room and seated at their designated tables at which time Margot starts to fully process that she was not Tyler’s actual date for this special dining event and it is further rubbed in by the name card at her seat having “Ms. Westervelt” written on it. She rolls her eyes and settles into her seat. Tyler, on the other hand, is like a kid in a candy store and wants to go up to the viewing area and watch the chefs at work. He takes Margot up with him and proceeds to explain the culinary techniques being used, trying to impress Margot and set himself above her in status. They are soon prompted to return to their seats for service to begin.
This is the point where things start to really get weird. From the start of service throughout the evening, every detail of every menu aspect has been meticulously planned and executed. To start each course Chef slaps his hands together in a startling clap and his small army of cooks comes to attention in one thunderous motion. The sound is aggressive, intimidating, and unsettling. Then, Chef Slowik makes a little speech explaining each dish's inspiration, ingredients, and purpose or meaning. As the courses progress the feeling of impending doom grows greater and greater within each guest. Each soliloquy is an escalation into the madness and misery of Chef Slowik and his decayed passion for cooking.
Now, this is the point where a lot begins to unfold in the movie and all the metaphorical and satirical elements unfurl. I am not going to go through all of that in too much depth in this particular review because honestly, that’s what a lot of other reviewers are doing. Everyone wants to pick apart every little detail of the movie and analyze it, yet no one seems to be overly concerned with giving actual opinions on the film itself. So, while I will be addressing those aspects of the film, those aspects would be better focused on in a separate blog post as there are a lot of psychological facets involved. And as an observation, the root of Chef’s dispassion is that very same kind of needling and nitpicking that destroys the entertainment aspect of films like this. Analyzation is great but overdoing it can take the “oomph” out of any art form. Sometimes, it’s best to just sit back and enjoy. The answers will come to you eventually.
Anyways…It is clear that Chef has lost his passion for his craft that once fueled his very existence. He goes to great lengths to painstakingly reveal everyone’s flaws while never really addressing any of his own personally. He has become obsessed with meaning and symbolism, completely bypassing the true joy of food: preparing it, serving it, and sharing it. He's long given up on the humanity and civility of providing epicurean services, the camaraderie in the kitchen and the profession itself, and the love and understanding that comes with making and sharing a meal with someone. He moulded his early passion into a career and that career has morphed into a miserable existence that Chef Slowik seems to loathe with every breath he takes.
I really enjoyed this movie. Every scene had at least one of those moments that you are anticipating and shocked by which leaves you wanting more and wondering what will they come up with next. The way the plot builds as the characters are unveiled is the perfect way to create the suspense that gives us chills. And while there are a few bigger names in the film they are relatively small parts. I thought that was a good thing. The cast was created in a way to try to accurately represent the diversity of average people dining out, even if they are in the elite class category.
But one of my favorite things about the way this movie was made is the camera work. After watching interviews with some of the actors and the director I found out that they had cameras positioned all around the restaurant and that they were filming at all times. That footage was then compiled and used to piece together the movie. This is slightly different than how most films are made as scenes are often filmed individually and then edited together. The making of this particular movie utilized a more "stream of consciousness" type filming method in which they filmed from all angles at all times and then edited that film down and arranged it to reveal the finished product we see on screen. This is why we get a lot of subtle nuances and reactions that we normally would not see because of editing and camera angles, etc. So, if you pay attention to the background, you will see several little things such as random facial expressions, body language, and other details that really add to the meatiness of the story.
I also feel that this is the kind of movie that grows on you. The first time I watched it I was a little on the fence. Although I liked it, I wasn’t sure if I was going to watch it again. But I did. And I kept watching it a few more times. Each time I picked up on some small detail that I missed before or something made more sense or came together more clearly than it did previously.
Also, the satirical side of the script meshes well with the dark comedy side of the film. Some moments are shockingly gruesome and yet there is an aspect that you can laugh at making the entire film a vigorous roller coaster of atrocious, cringe-worthy, comical, emotional, psychological, and socially awkward moments that affect the viewer in several ways, but always keep you guessing. Anyone who likes suspense/thriller films will enjoy this movie. Those who like horror with a little bit of gore but not a lot as most is implied or left to the imagination will enjoy this flick as well. And those movie watchers that a lot of symbolism are going to love this movie as well. And if it seems to not all come together the first time you see it, I recommend watching it a second time. You pick up on so much more when you watch a second time and know what happens.
I hope you all enjoy (or enjoyed) this movie as much as I did! It is a new favorite of mine. I will try to do a blog post on the metaphorical aspects of the film soon so we can explore that without clogging up an opinion piece like this review.
As always, thanks so much for reading, and happy horror hunting!!