‘The Menu’ offers satire you can sink your teeth into


Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

Anya Taylor-Joy bites off more than she can chew in this dark comedy.

“The Menu,” released on Nov. 18, stars Anya Taylor-Joy as Margot Mils, a woman who gets more than she bargained for when her date with Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) takes a deadly turn. They go to an exclusive restaurant called Hawthorne, accessible only by boat and run by Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). Hawthorne, along with the island that supports it, is shown to be almost a closed system. The staff and head chef all live on the island, working nearly every day to prepare and cook meals, with almost no respite. Over the course of the evening that the couple visits the restaurant, the meals get stranger and it becomes increasingly clear that this might be their last meal.

It would be easy to read this plot as a summation of a more typical horror movie, but the film, despite its violent scenes and tension, is much more of a dark comedy. Even the most shocking moments have an element of dry humor to them, which takes the movie from a pure artsy terror to something much more entertaining and very relatable. A core theme of the movie is the difference between those who serve and those who are served. Our protagonist begins on the side of the latter, as Tyler’s plus-one, but over the course of the film her stance changes, as the greater relationship between service workers and their clients is explored.

Having worked as a food server and busboy, there is undeniably some catharsis in the film for me. To be clear, I’ve never worked at a restaurant, real or imaginary, with the prestige and expensive entry fee of a place like Hawthorne. That said, as previously mentioned, the way “The Menu” explores that class divide and its resulting impacts on how we interact with other people is very compelling, and was something I didn’t expect going into the film. A lot of the time, movies in this A24-esque vein can come off as too distant, too artsy to be appreciated or even scary. While I personally enjoyed “Midsommar,” for instance, I think that people looking for something less trippy will find a lot to enjoy in “The Menu.”

The actors’ performances are all stellar. Fiennes and Taylor-Joy in particular inhabit their respective roles very well, with Fiennes’s commanding and subtly menacing performance giving Julian Slowik the right balance of mania and professionalism. It’s easy to see how a less skilled actor might have made Slowik too maniacal, or not maniacal enough. Taylor-Joy’s performance is equally compelling, with an appropriately scrappy attitude and well-matched performance to Fiennes. Really, all the performances in the film are amazing, even if some actors get less to do than others.

“The Menu” is on the whole a deeply enjoyable film, providing both interesting commentary and simply well-executed dark humor. In a year of great films such as “Crimes of the Future” and “Nope,” “The Menu” carves out a place of its own. If it’s not already clear, I’d highly recommend seeing it this holiday season. Just eat before the show instead of going in hungry.