Fine dining and the culinary experience are not concepts one could traditionally associate with horror and thriller. Comedy perhaps, as Gordon Ramsay's many series have proven to us, the endless fury of an angry British man onto his underlings during a restaurant's rush hour proves no end of entertaining. Yet surprisingly, the Menu manages to transform the idea of a private chef's culinary experience into a nightmarish descent into madness and eventual cultish murder masterfully, and at times the movie makes these ideals seem intertwined with each other. Through Ralph Fiennes's (who one may recognize from his roles as Lord Voldemort, Hades, and Amon Goeth amongst many other malevolent characters in popular media) portrayal of Chef Slowik, a man disillusioned with his own industry of work to such a point he organizes a hostage crisis simply to prove his bloody point, we come to understand a deep-rooted psychological problem that plagues our real world today, that being how rampant commercialization of things so basic as food and cooking have lessened the genuine nature of these experiences, instead whoring them out as clickable posts on social medias. However, that's just one of the movie's many commentaries on late-stage capitalist society, and even with these messages, is the movie itself any good? Let's take a look at tonight's Menu!
To begin with, whilst every character in this movie holds a defining trait to separate them from the rest, most of them aren't truly memorable; being a relatively different flavor of pretentious wealthy asshole, including the main character's 'boyfriend' Tyler, who I must say is probably the most insidiously annoying member of this ill-fated group of dining patrons as his obvious kiss-assery for the Chef is overwhelmingly irritating in nature, and later revealed to even be malicious. There's also the financial partners Soren, Dave, and Bryce, alongside washed-up movie star George, his assistant, a wealthy mogul named Richard and his wife, a snobby food critic, and multiple other attendants. Everyone here could be considered the higher caste of modern American society, whether through genuine merit, inheritance, or some manner of fraud or manipulation. Throughout the night, Chef Slowik's speeches regarding the food he serves become more unhinged and concerning, ultimately culminating with his forcing of his own assistant's suicide and ordering his minions to slice off Richard's ring finger. Slowik's assistant Elsa, who is portrayed with a hilariously calculated and cool demeanor about her seems to enforce his will unflinchingly. In fact, the only character who doesn't seem to fit into Chef's grand plan of the night is our protagonist, Erin, under the cover name Margot. We find out this is because her appearance entirely wasn't planned for, as Tyler's actual plus one broke up with him a few weeks prior and he cobbled together an escort woman for this occasion. Given that we also uncover Tyler knows about Chef's scheme to end the night in grisly murder-suicide, this makes him arguably just as insane as Chef Slowik himself. The best part of all this is that it's somehow intertwined with an unbreakable black comedy that laces the entire movie, whether it be deadpan menu descriptions of the food in tandem with the violence on screen or the caricature characters reacting in hilarious ways to their predicament, to Chef's own clear insanity being almost cartoonish at times.
Speaking of Chef Slowik, what a marvelous antagonist he is. I'm truly glad this movie didn't proceed down the route of him being merely some monstrous cannibal or misanthrope. While some may argue that his actual motivation and character, that being of a radical who despises the capitalistic system he slaves for, is similarly predictable and overdone considering modern media's fixation on late-stage capitalism's decaying nature, I still feel it was masterfully portrayed through an angle few others have explored before. It's essentially a tale of 'what if Gordon Ramsay lost his passion for cooking and started a death-cult among his own sous-chefs'. It really sounds ridiculous, but considering the actual history of many real-world cults (which is truly something freaky in itself), it's not entirely impossible. Slowik oozes a terrifying malevolence and monster charisma that captivated me from start to finish, and ultimately, while obviously an unhinged lunatic who couldn't find more peaceful solutions to his conundrum, does present genuine points about our world today. He accuses all the wealthy prisoners brought before him of representing the 'death of his passion', whether it be through the Finance Guys and their criminal activities and tax evasion, the wealthy couple disregarding the chef's work and going to Hawthorne Island (the name of our movie's setting) solely for the novelty of eating at such a resplendent place, Tyler's inane kiss-assery that serves him ultimately zero favors as he proves himself a horrific cook, the food critic shutting down restaurant based on her reviews alone, or the movie star acting in a movie the Chef really hated. Yeah... I didn't say he was perfect, he is the antagonist after all.
Frankly, the Menu is sort of like a darker version of Ratatouille. It takes the inglorious real world a chef inhabits and has to navigate, but instead of displaying someone overcoming those struggles, we're presented with a broken man who enforces a final, bloody will against his perceived injustice in the world. All the people he murders are ultimately guilty of grievous sin, whether to each other or to others, and I was thankful at least the main character was able to escape, as she seemed the most blameless from the entire cast. It really does make one wonder about how much society sucks the passion from people as it commercializes even basic things like the necessary profession of cooking into something that is pawned for clicks and reviewed mercilessly by individuals that have never spent a day in a kitchen. However, Chef's logic can be broken down by the mere fact he chooses to continue serving in this industry. He continues to indulge these people and their bloated egos, pride, and sense of self-importance by continuing the Hawthorne Island traditions, instead of just quitting and using his immense talent to feed the hungry. But I suppose given the hints of a hard or either absent family and generally just emotional disorders from the Chef, he may have only thought violence was the only option left.. Either way, the Menu is probably one of the best movies I've seen this year. It's a terrific blend of comedy with dark thrillers, containing great highs and lows, alongside payoffs for tension and leaving you with messages and themes to think about long after the movie ends. Please check it out if you have the time, stay safe and God bless everyone! Oh, and one more thing, I will be starting a new series on this Blog soon, so keep your eyes peeled for that.