We’ve talked about it over and over – horror keeps moving in a fascinating direction and with each passing movie, the genre continues to innovate. I love an original premise, the quirkier the better. So, when The Menu popped into my consciousness not too long ago, I was smitten. This culinary black comedy makes a lot of promises. When all is said and done, is it a five-star meal? Or does the dish leave an awkward taste in your mouth? 

The Menu follows a young couple (Nicholas Hoult and Anya Taylor-Joy). They scrimp and save in order to travel to an exclusive island retreat run by an eccentric and eclectic chef (Ralph Fiennes). As things take shape, however, it soon becomes clear they’ve walked into more than they bargained for. Will they be able to escape with their lives as the body count rises? John Leguizamo, Janet McTeer, Judith Light, Hong Chau and Aimee Carrero co-star in the movie. Mark Mylod directs The Menu from a script by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy. 

Nicholas Hoult and Anya-Taylor Joy watch the action suspiciously in The Menu.

The Menu comes to the screen in the tradition of recent horror movies like Ready or Not. In fact, as it takes shape, The Menu almost feels like the “Awards Season” equivalent of the delightful 2019 gem. Heck, The Menu is basically Ready or Not meets Succession. Furthermore, it is not missed by this critic that filmmaker Mark Mylod (who primarily works on the small screen) directed multiple episodes of the glitzy HBO drama. 

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It should come as no surprise that The Menu is having an absolute blast sinking its teeth into this ritzy environment. It seems Mylod is the perfect choice to helm the pitch-black comedy. His direction isn’t in your face. Instead, he isn’t afraid to let his camera step back and allow this vivid world and these colorful characters to do all the “talking”.

As that might imply, the movie’s success rests squarely on the shoulders of a talented and dynamic cast. In fact, this group, particularly Fiennes, Hoult and Taylor-Joy, elevates The Menu to an impressive level.

Ralph Fiennes presides over the dining room in The Menu.

These are the characters we as audience members are really allowed to connect with. Anya Taylor-Joy is of course always phenomenal whenever she hits the screen. This time out, she shines as our audience surrogate, Margot. She finds a recognizable and relatable humanity in this character which is vital to The Menu‘s success. 

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This is largely because real humanity is in short supply among this group of oddballs. The Menu features fun characters brought to life by talented performers. However, Reiss and Tracy build the narrative with a laser focus on class warfare. Their point of view is crystal clear and is not open to interpretation. The ultra-elites visiting this retreat are horrible, horrible people. No ifs, and, or buts about it.  

Beyond the film’s three mentioned leads, the characters are little more than caricatures. There’s the uppity restaurant critic (McTeer), the disconnected, fake elderly couple (Reed Birney and Light), and finally the hedge fund “bros” (Arturo Castro, Rob Yang and Mark St. Cyr). Even a look over the film’s IMDb page shows Leguizamo’s character doesn’t even have a name. He receives credit as “The Movie Star.” 

Anya Taylor-Joy listens nervously in The Menu.

Ultimately, The Menu isn’t invested in finding the humanity in these people. Instead, their purpose is to serve as either the butt of jokes or build narrative understanding. They show us exactly why our antagonist does what they do. No spoilers!

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Hoult dives head first into his performance. We learn next to nothing about this young man except his borderline neurotic obsession with fancy food. He’s a foodie. However, Hoult fearlessly plays into the absurdity. He pulls no punches and looks to be having a great time with the sheer chaos that is his character. Much of the narrative humor falls on his shoulders and he carries much of the complex tonal interplay. He’s silly when it counts, hits the drama when he needs to and is a joy to watch throughout.  

In the grand scheme of things, the only true problems I had with The Menu (luckily for the movie) enter into spoiler territory. So, get ready to watch me do the delicate dance of spoiler avoidance.

Nicholas Hoult and Anya Taylor-Joy watch the dining room action in The Menu.

Unfortunately, The Menu stumbles in the last ten minutes in a seemingly groping attempt to bring the script to a close. In a film unafraid to show a black, biting sense of humor, this closing softball feels like a reach. It doesn’t feel real to the script and when all was said and done, it was a letdown. These characters deserve better. 

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All in all, The Menu accomplishes much of what it sets out to do. This black culinary comedy maintains a challenging tone and keeps its audience chuckling throughout. This troop of talented performers fully commit to the action and look to be having a blast. It’s just a shame that a strange choice in a somewhat rushed ending keeps it from reaching its full, delectable potential.

The Menu debuts in theaters around the country on November 18. 

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Kimberly Pierce
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