The outgoing cinematic year surprised us with a non-trivial trend in gastronomy – following Hiro Murai’s brisk “The Bear” and Peter Strickland’s eccentric “Flux Gourmet”, Mark Mylod’s “The Menu” was released internationally. Probably the first thriller in the career of the British director, who for many years did not go beyond comedies – funny (“The Big White”) and not very much (“What’s Your Number?”). For Mylod, “Menu” definitely became a kind of exit from the genre comfort zone, an attempt to play on the nerves of the audience, and in some ways even shock.
A big fan of cooking shows, Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and his girlfriend Margo (Anya Taylor-Joy) travel to a remote island to attend a dinner party of genius chef Julian Slovik (Ralph Fiennes). The heroes do not even suspect that in a couple of hours the long-awaited event, which brought together all the cream of society, will turn into mental and physical torture for them, the main sadist in which will be that very famous culinary specialist.
Like the sensational “Triangle of Sadness” by Ruben Ostlund, “The Menu” at first looks like not the most veiled mockery of the privileged class – a bunch of rich people satiated with the gifts of life, accustomed to taking everything and everyone around for granted, drowned in their own spiritual emptiness and arrogant pretentiousness. Each of Julian Slovik’s guests, whether it be an elite restaurant critic or an aging star of American sitcoms, came to his dinner not for simple hedonistic pleasure, but for the status and exclusivity of the very fact of attending this memorable evening. Subsequently, Julian will accuse his clients of hypocrisy – and he will be absolutely right. Over the long years of working in the best institutions in the world, Slovik learned to distinguish all shades of elitist duplicity, which eventually reduced his sincere love for cooking into a state of tedious obsession – an eternally unsatisfied desire for perfection. Alas, Julian’s character turned out to be so absorbed in righteous anger at the rich depreciating his dishes that he did not notice how he himself had lost a significant amount of humanity.
Over time, the dinner ceases to be languid and turns into a real theater of the absurd, each subsequent act of which makes the guests fidget more and more in their chairs. Alas, they will not immediately realize that behind the exclusive presentation, supposedly designed to change the focus of the perception of food, there is a frank mockery. As events unfold, Slovik’s level of madness only grows, but fake applause continues to be heard around him. Most of all, of course, Tyler is trying – a devoted admirer of the chef, ready to sign compliments at every opportunity.
In the disarming dishonesty of the chef’s guests, one can see a not too exaggerated reference to the consumer society, for which the fact of owning an object is always more important than its spiritual value. However, due to the overly caricatured images of the characters and the rather sketchy emotional dramaturgy of screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, it is not particularly possible to feel the events taking place in the Menu. Even the main character of the film – the psychopathic Chief Slovik, brilliantly played by Ralph Fiennes – seems too blurry, the character of Anya Taylor-Joy seems to have been created only for a bright final twist.
At the same time, visually, the “The Menu” impresses with its chic frame geometry, which involuntarily refers to the chef’s obsessive desire to bring each dish to an absolute ideal. The only problem is that in cooking, as in any other art form, the process of perception is always more important than the result. And in this regard, the “The Menu” looks, albeit not the sharpest, but not at all insipid film.