The Menu

Year: 2022
Production Co: Hyberobject Industries
Studio: Searchlight
Director: Mark Mylod
Writer: Seth Reiss/Will Tracy
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, John Leguizamo, Judith Light

I'm not sure how subtle or nuanced this film looked like from the poster and trailer, but it ends up an incredibly blunt instrument, abandoning any semblance of clever coyness when the truth about what's really going on is revealed.

Director Mark Mylod, from a script by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, sets up a very effective tone for the first half. From the time Margot (Anya Taylor Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) arrive on the private island that's home to an exclusive restaurant named Hawthorn along with a small group of other rich and privileged guests, the mood is icy, scary and not at all welcoming.

From the prim and attentive hostess Elsa (Hong Chau) who shows the guests around the island's farming and harvesting facilities to the revered chef who runs the place, Julian (Ralph Fiennes), everyone is cordial, straight-backed and professional, but exudes a simmering undercurrent of threat.

Margot is bemused and unsure, especially since Tyler is such a gibbering fanboy of Julian's, even asking Margot in a panic if she thinks the famous chef likes him like a kid in a schoolyard. It also hasn't helped that Margot isn't Tyler's intended date, and what a problem it apparently presents to the proceedings, even though nobody says so in as many words.

In short order the guests – which also includes a has-been movie star (John Leguizamo) and his development assistant, a wealthy older couple and a trio of stock option-type business bros – are seated in the clenched, gilded atmosphere while Julian and his disciplined team work in the attached kitchen in full view like it's a military drill.

With the presentation of each dish, he stands like an angry school principal, claps his hands loudly (and frightens the shit out of everyone) and introduces the next increasingly bizarre course.

The film doesn't make it clear enough exactly why Julian and his staff have chosen this particular night to carry out their plans, and I won't say what those are because the entire second half of the film is a spoiler, but suffice it to say the air of menace Margot – who seems to be the only one who can see how weird it all is – has been feeling all night has been for a very good reason.

The first hint is when they're served gourmet tacos – with laser printed pictures of past sins nobody wants known seared onto the tortillas. For the elderly couple it's a picture of the husband with another woman, who happens to be Margot. For the three start-up types it's spreadsheets detailing tax evasion and criminal investment schemes.

The guests argue, protest and some demand to be taken back to the mainland, but the doors are locked, Elsa, Julian and their staff stay formal and polished even while staring down anyone who tries to leave.

It really kicks in when the staff bring out a large white plastic sheet. While the curious guests look on, they spread it wide across the floor and put sprigs of herb around the outside.

Julian calls his second in command to the centre of the sheet and starts to calmly berate his skills, whereupon the young man just as calmly lifts a gun to his temple and shoots himself in the head. And to say it goes downhill fast is an understatement.

But while some of the bloodshed and violence that follows is horror movie fun, it takes itself a bit too seriously with the backstory about Julian's humble beginnings, Margot's real identity and how any semblance of self preservation in the characters goes out the window, and I started buying into it less the closer it got to the climactic all-out slaughter.

It's well staged and shot, the location is evocative and the tone during the set-up is deliciously nasty and evil and very well done. It's just that some horror movies manage the trick of staying nimble even when savagery descends – even if they're full of as many bouts of bloodshed as this film – but The Menu abandons all that to be simply gruesome.

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