Score: 8|10 Cheeseburgers
After having a taste of The Menu, you might feel the need for a second serving. Garnished in flakes of cheesiness, The Menu is reminiscent of nineties slasher films and Hollywood’s early murder mystery thrillers. Directed by Mark Mylod, the performances, cinematography and sound design are what bring this story together. If any of those three elements were to fail, this movie would be a total flop. Instead, it is an instant cult classic. So, what are the ingredients to The Menu? As a blog that rates on the cheeseburger scale, let's break down why The Menu scores eight wholesome and delicious cheeseburgers.
Ingredients Equal Parts Pre-Production and Aristotle: ¼ Performance ¼ Sound and Set Design ¼ Cinematography ¼ Writing 1 Portion of Pathos
¼ Performance As Chef Julian Slowik, Ralph Fiennes shines in one of his best performances since Red Dragon. His performance holds the film up and really adds a finesse, no pun intended, to the feelings that evolve for the audience throughout his arc. There was a moment when I realized that if there was a movie in which Dr. Evil were portrayed in a dramatic way, it would be this one. Fiennes character, Chef Julian Slowik, is a staple. There is a certain “wolf” he reminds me of, among the identity of many celebrity Chefs who might relate. You hate him but can’t help liking and rooting for him.
Anya Taylor-Joy is showing us that she really can fill the shoes of a complicated role. From The Queens Gambit and The Northman into The Menu, she is fulfilling a sense of range in what she has to offer. Her role as Casey Cooke in M. Knight Shyamalan's Split made an impression on audiences and watching her succeed is a hopeful example for many. I am anxious to see her in more character roles that require some talented acting, as it is clear that she is capable of handling such things. As Margot, Anya Taylor-Joy brings a great sense of discovery, sass and practicality which compliments the overall story.
John Leguizamo also brings a sense of humor and bliss to the film. While not giving away too much, he really is very much himself playing the role listed broadly as “Movie Star” on the IMDB page.
¼ Sound and Set Design
The metaphor is clear and so emboldened that the context of everything makes little to no practical sense, yet it still works without us caring about the reality. The instant where the captain on the ferry speaks over the boats PA is when I knew some very talented storytellers had put something interesting together. It sounds like actually being inside of a boat cabin for an announcement… bravo to the extensive list of credited mixers and artists. If you aren’t plunged into immersion at that point, you are tough to please. If you are into ASMR you will probably play this part a few times. As we transition to the pristine Hawthorne restaurant nestled on the shore in a rustic sheet metal slaughterhouse, one can’t help but notice the parallels to the real-world fine dining experience. From Chef Slowik's disheveled manor to the cultic onset of how the employees live, the set design and locations were very appropriate to establish the oncoming tone. The way Hawthorne itself is designed is luxurious and personal, much like some higher end experiences. The fireplace and flames in the kitchen are subtle yet effective and memorable. This is the result of great Art Direction and Set Decoration working with Cinematography.
Basic, yet seamless. Creative and bold. The expose shots of the individual meals with their title cards were not only unique and fun in how they appeal, especially to foodies, but they played into the slow, humorous reveal within the beats of the acts. The lighting and compositing were skillful as we watch the sun set outside of the window throughout the film. There are many creative shots, and it is apparent that everything was well crafted, with something like eighty percent being Steadicam perhaps with a combination of 24mm and 35mm Panavision lenses. Director of Photography Peter Deming offered us a taste of what it looks like when you put effort and skill into something which is risky and difficult to portray. Too often is there a fast-food feel to the cinematography we see exclusive to streaming. The Menu is not one of those, but rather a model which should be analyzed and exemplified.
This easily could be a stage play. Think of the restaurant experience at Dick’s Last Resort and turn it into a celebrity Chef's murder mystery fantasy. The writing is simplistic, but this is what provides a vast canvas for other talent and creatives to build on. The dialogue is rudimentary in some respects while brilliant with a clean poetry in others. Written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, the relationship between the screenwriting and production process will definitely be something film students' study in the years to follow. It reminds me of another cult classic Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. It reaches to heights that are unbelievable, but the thrilling and bolstered exposition keeps us intrigued and hooked… dare I say, entertained?
¾ Portion of Pathos
Let’s talk about the metaphor, the Pathos. It’s not too hard to identify in this film, in fact it’s very apparent throughout. Thematically, this is not a new concept. What makes this a great movie is not just in the way it looks and sounds, but in how it continues to double down throughout, quickly taking us into a surreal horror that couldn’t be much more than funny in the sense of how many of us can probably relate with the psychopaths in the film. Without spoiling the surprises, when the line is drawn it is bold and aggressive, which is another garnish that adds to the entertainment value of watching the story unfold.
This is a silly movie that does not try to be taken seriously, but at the same time it tries. That’s part of what makes it funny in a very dark way and worth the investment if you're into the one room challenges in storytelling. As over the top as The Menu is, the way it was all produced has a realism in truth, which is somewhat terrifying. Maybe this is what it’s really like on those “private” Islands. The Menu is truly a fine paring for the expanding comeback of the Comedy/Thriller/Horror genre, and simply that.