The Menu (2022) by Mark Mylod is like a foodie film made by Quentin Tarantino

The story proceeds in chapters, following each course on the menu, from the amuse-bouche to dessert. Each dish gets a personal introduction from Slowik; occasionally an embarrassingly personal one. These speeches find him reminiscing, confessing or philosophizing in a way that initially seems amusing and daring, as one might expect from a man of genius.

Yet as the courses grow stranger – (the bread course is completely conceptual) – the speeches become tinged with anger, self-loathing, megalomania, and contempt. Slowik is a psycho, a tortured artist who has grown tired of putting his creations in front of wealthy swine.

This exclusive meal is intended as a last supper for a representative group of customers he has grown to despise. Every guest has been hand-picked; their sins being toasted onto tacos that appear on their plates like subpoenas calling them to account. The sole exception is Margo, whom Tyler has enlisted as a last-minute substitute after a bust-up with his girlfriend.

For Slowik, Margo is the fly in the ointment who has undermined his immaculate preparations. He has to find a way of classifying her, discovering whether she belongs with the rich and privileged diners, or the workers in the kitchen. It’s here we begin to see The Menu as a story about class and inequality, which quickly translates into a reign of terror inflicted by the serfs on their social superiors.

When Margo spies a photo of a young Slowik flipping burgers, she can see he has risen from the working classes to his current eminence. With success, he has arrived at a nihilistic worldview in which an aristocracy of talent is enslaved and demeaned by the fatuous, undeserving rich. Tonight’s meal is intended as the apocalyptic finale of his career: a political statement and a fearful act of revenge.

Slowik’s menu is designed to break the pride and spirit of the diners in progressive stages, until their only thoughts are of survival.

In its structure, The Menu borrows from many different sources. The setting conjures up thoughts of other cinematic islands, where the resident dictator might be Dr. Moreau or Dr. No. As most of the action takes place inside the restaurant, one remembers the guests in Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel (1962), who are unable to leave the room.

On the only occasion Slowik’s guests are invited to leave, the men are hunted down by kitchen hands, in a scenario familiar from B-grade exploitation thrillers in which the villain pretends to give his victims a sporting chance.

Slowik’s menu is designed to break the pride and spirit of the diners in progressive stages, until their only thoughts are of survival. In dramatic terms, the characters are little more than pawns, which does not allow for memorable acting. As representative types they are caricatures, even Fiennes, who plays Slowik with the same severity he brought to the title role of Coriolanus (2011).

After Hoult’s appearances in The Favorite (2018) and TV series The Great, he seems destined to play the obsequious idiot. Only Anya Taylor-Joy has a role that acquires a little light and shade.

The obvious film to watch alongside this one is Ruben Ostlund’s Triangle of Sadness, which will be at the cinemas in a few weeks. Once again, the rich and decadent are the targets, although the humor is keener and more subtle, at least until the vomiting starts. The motivating force behind such films seems to be a sense of disgust at the incredible wealth and power concentrated nowadays in the hands of a small group of otherwise undistinguished people.

The mega-rich are engaged in a full-time search for ways to spend their money, from expensive restaurants to luxury travel. They buy art, and bankroll movies and political candidates with the same level of interest. Satire is perhaps the only weapon that can be used against them, but it’s a blunt knife at best. Maybe that’s why, in The Menuthe humorous rapidly devolves into the murderous.

The Menu

Directed by Mark Mylod

Written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, John Leguizamo, Aimee Carrero

USA, rated MA 15+, 106 mins

More film reviews from John McDonald

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