By Lori Perkins
I saw the previews and was intrigued by what I thought was the premise for The Menu – a horror movie wherein the obnoxiously rich and truly tasteless get their comeuppance. I was thinking it would devolve into some sort of The Most Dangerous Game meets The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover with some haute cuisine cannibalism thrown in.
I love black comedies, so I thought I was ready for this film. And I was intrigued that they got someone as impressive as Ralph Fiennes to play what looked like the villain (but who doesn’t want to play a juicy over-the-top villain?)
I was wrong.
This movie is both much more, and less.
Twelve obnoxiously rich and entitled guests are invited to a private island restaurant where a high-end celebrity chef offers a multi-course meal at $1,250 a plate. There’s a biting food critic who has ruined many a restaurant’s reputation and her simpering editor; three finance bros who have absolutely no taste; an aging movie star and his Girl Friday who is desperately trying to leave him; an older, wealthy couple who can barely stand each other, and a foodie-fan who believes this chef turns water into wine and his date, which we learn is someone he has just brought along because his girlfriend broke up with him. And the chef’s mother, who sits alone in a corner, drinking fine glass of wine after fine glass of wine.
We quickly learn that the chef is a tyrant, lording over his obedient staff, who we learn all live on the island and forage and source and prepare and cook the food in an over-the-top farm-to-table scenario. Of course, both the chef and his staff see him as a genius.
As the menu offerings roll out, we see that they are parodies of recipes we have all laughed at, although my favorite was the breadless bread sampler, which features dollops of dips on a plate.
And as the various plates come out, so does some of the story, as we realize the woman drinking alone is the chef’s mother, who failed to prevent his father’s violence, so he serves a deconstructed “Taco Tuesday” based upon his “memory” of stabbing his father in the thigh. That’s when you start to think they are all going to become part of the meal.
The next course is titled “Mess” and a sous chef comes forward to create it and proceeds to slit his own throat. This is when you are pretty sure they are all going to die, and the food critic even says something to this extent later on, after insisting it’s brilliant theater.
The men are later released into the wild to be chased by the junior sous chefs, and this is where I was sure we were going to start The Most Dangerous Game hunt, but that fizzles and they were all brought back in, with the last one captured given a culinary reward.
But the “date” that the foodie fan brings turns out to be the real surprise here, as the chef informs us that the meal and the evening is meticulously planned, and she is not part of it. Since she is an unknown, she must decide whether she is a server or the served, but neither really matters because the chef tells us that they are all going to die this evening.
And that is what you expect for the last third of the movie – some sort of gastronomical blood bath.
The real twist is that someone survives, and through the intervention of a fabulous-looking cheeseburger. A very satisfying end to a brutal meal!