Voldemort is in the kitchen. Mark Mylod's first theatrical directorial endeavor in over a decade comes in the form of The Menu, a comedic horror tale that sets Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen's Gambit), and Nicholas Hoult (Tolkien) on Hawthorne, an exclusive island restaurant that meticulously prepares its guests' courses, both in terms of their meals and their lives. While absurd at points, this tension-filled comedic horror is expertly constructed to keep audiences on the edge of their seats for the full 107 minutes.
Fiennes delivers another chilling performance as celebrity chef Julian Slowik, especially impressive in his subtleties. Despite clearly commanding the room, Slowik is a reserved character, evident in his limited facial expressions and carefully crafted dialogue. Slowik's kitchen is cult-esque in how it's run, which consequently gives the character a sense of magnetism. He's strict and cynical yet suave to a degree. It's unlikely that audiences will ever find themselves rooting for Slowik, but there is an internal sense of desire for the film's protagonists to win over his approval.
That primarily comes with Tyler. Hoult brings an authenticity to this role with every character he interacts with, as he maintains an obsessive-like fascination with Slowik's work. Even though he's positioned as the protagonist, Hoult does an applause-worthy job of staying so true to this admiration for Slowik that he teeters on being dislikable at times, which adds an appreciated layer to his personality.
While Hoult and Fiennes carry their weight, this is Taylor-Joy's movie. The 26-year-old actress shines as Margot, the audience's link to reality. Like Tyler, Margot stays true to who she is throughout all three acts of The Menu, but slowly becomes more forward with the layers that she teased from the jump. Her specific relationships and the history that comes with them also makes for strong rewatchability, as some understated aspects might get missed on an initial view.
These three strong performances give The Menu a proper sense of pacing. The expected exposition to open gets a welcomed jolt of energy once the guests arrive at Hawthorne, and the film never looks back. Mylod builds quite the level of suspense that peaks at just the right moments, while also hitting appropriately timed valleys to allow viewers to process what has unraveled.
That pacing is also aided by Colin Stetson's score, which interweaves into Slowik's haunting monologues and mirrors Margot's (and consequently the audience's) emotions as the havoc at Hawthorne crescendos.
The biggest issue with The Menu unfortunately comes with the finish. As mentioned, the film is a bit absurd at times, and the third act emphasizes that significantly. The Menu establishes its "rules" from the get-go, so nothing that happens is exactly out of the ordinary. With that in mind, the film doesn't ask for an exaggerated suspension of disbelief until the ending. Because audiences enter The Menu by seeing it as the world outside their windows and since it maintains that sense of realism for the majority of it, this last-minute switch-up could take viewers out of it.
The third act is not all lost, however, as The Menu does come full circle. Landing the ending is crucial to a film, as the last thing audiences see often indicates how a film is remembered overall. The Menu does course-correct for its final scenes, which is enough to hold up all the good it accomplishes in the first two acts.
Even with its absurdities come the finale, The Menu is a win. Fiennes, Hoult, and Taylor-Joy elevate every scene that they are in, and take the ones they share to incredible heights. Mylod crafts a knife-cuttingly suspenseful tale that is ultimately worth the theatrical experience.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The Menu hits theaters on Friday, November 18th.0comments