April 14, 2024

THE MENU (2022) – A not so fine dining experience

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Rating: ⭐⭐ 1/2

Another thriller about a group of people who are invited to a remote island and have some unpleasant events happen to them. The last time this happened was in that awful Netflix original The Glass Onion. This time, the guests are invited to an exclusive and lavish dinner prepared by celebrity chef Julian Slowik (played by Ralph Fiennes). As the dinner progresses, the guests quickly realize that not everything is as it appears, with one gruesome surprise strung in after another alongside their menu course.

The overall plot of being invited to a fancy dinner and having no idea what to expect in the evening is intriguing. However, I had issues with the way the film went around this ffrom the start. lmost the entire first act was spent telling us how great Slowik is as a chef, how delicious the dinner will be and how exclusive and beautiful the restaurant location was. Instead of giving us a better understanding of the various characters, we are bombarded with each of them acting like excited school kids saying the same thing over and over. Okay, I get it! The dinner is unique. The chef is fantastic. The food is expected to be creatively presented and prepared, as well as to taste delicious. I couldn’t help but think that this was an overkill.

The chef introduces his dinner menu course by course as the guests are seated and dinner begins. Again, we see the guests gloating over their dishes, but as the course progresses, something sinister occurs, and things become a little more interesting and unpredictable. If you haven’t seen it yet, I won’t spoil the plot for you, especially since the element of not knowing what happens next is probably the film’s strongest asset. While the conclusion was foregone, the path leading to it was an uneven one. The element of not knowing what will happen next was not always well played. I struggle to accept the credibility and logic behind some of the plotline. For example, how did a celebrity chef manage to recruit such a dedicated team of presumably serious cooks, that are literally brainwashed by his mad plan.

Overall, The Menu was a letdown. It had all the elements of a bloody good thriller. However, I felt it fell short. At the end, director Mark Mylod failed to make a mark. He did not satisfy the blood thirsty needs of true slasher horror movies as the gore level here was very low, nor will it satisfy the arthouse crowd from its stereotype set of characters. Fortunately for us, we have its two main stars, the always excellent Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Fiennes who I consider as the film’s saving grace. They manage hold the fort despite the poorly written script, and while everything around them appears to crumble under the weight of an uneven plot and a contentious ending. Nicholas Hoult (the Beast in the X-Men movies) was quite frankly horrible giving us a one-dimensional character that has blind devotion with some vague motivation for his actions.

Under different circumstances, I believe The Menu would have fared far better as an intellectually stimulating psychological dark comedy thriller with a social statement on current human behavior and values. Like the White Lotus TV series, the target subject appears to be the rich and privileged white people. But unlike the White Lotus, we have none of the rich characterisation, clever dialog or a plausible tale of insanity gone wrong, to let us savour. It is a missed opportunity that could have worked better with a different director and writer.

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