Review | ‘The Menu,’ Where the Beef Is

Darkly Comic Thriller Is Nasty Fun, Thanks to Chef Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy in ‘The Menu.’ | Credit: Eric Zachanowich / Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios

One of the many points of narrative and cinematic mischief-making in Mark Mylod’s (director of TV’s Succession and Game of Thrones) sly comic-horror flick The Menu showcases the humble, mighty cheeseburger, as a symbol and object of desire. In a film that freely regales us with the exploits of a regal chef gone/going mad, haute cuisine gone Grand Guignol, and sadistic conceptual foodie excesses, the scene most identifiable as “food porn” finds our mad chef (Ralph Fiennes) lovingly cooking up a savory cheeseburger, lovingly ladled into a bun. Close-ups and almost sensual blends of sight and sound — even suggestions of smell — linger on the screen, as the briefly happy chef taps his youthful idealism as a fry cook while satisfying a customer’s request for the all-American staple.

Alas, the “cheeseburger incident” is an idyllic passage in a film otherwise festering with pending doom, served with plenty of wry and generous portions of class revenge. Fiennes is the mysterious genius at the core of an expensive dining experience on a small island, a gathering point for a hapless collection of adventure-seeking diners, elitists, and otherwise morally suspect foodies — including a food critic, cynical high finance bros, a vapid movie star (John Leguizamo), and an accidental “service” industry guest (Anya Taylor-Joy), the aforementioned cheeseburger facilitator. Little do they know what’s in store, and whose animal blood will be involved.

Credit: Eric Zachanowich / Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios

We opted to catch the film on a Saturday night, without knowing of the story’s ingredients, somehow expecting a restaurant-related rom-com. Mistaking where the film was screening, a worker directed us down the street, first asking “Oh, you mean the cannibal movie?” Spoiler alert: There is no cannibalism on this menu. But there will be blood and dead things, beyond what’s on the plate.

Somehow, Mylod, working from a tart script by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, performs a deft juggling act with his hybrid concoction, which mixes B-film elements and slasher-flick kitsch with deeper themes. The most ennobling presence onscreen is the suavely scary Fiennes, always at his best in villain’s garb — as he amply demonstrated in his scene-stealing powers as a concentration camp commander in Schindler’s List, for one. Here, his character tips a hat to the mass-butchering model of Jim Jones, and way past the model of Wolfgang Puck. It’s all good, nasty fun, with a bit of class struggling schadenfreude as a side dish.

Natch, I went home and Googled up a designer cheeseburger recipe. Although tasty enough, it did not rise to the level of food porn.


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