I don’t consider myself much of a food connoisseur. If you look at me, you might think otherwise (imagine Kevin Smith before he lost the weight). I like to eat. And not that healthy stuff. I am a meat-and-potatoes kinda guy. I hardly eat my veggies, even though I have tried to broaden my palate by eating more leafy greens. It’s sorta like my New Year’s promise to myself to get back into a shape that is less round.
But just like my taste in food, I have a specific taste in movies. I watch all types, from dramas and tear-jerkers to comedies and documentaries. But my true passion is horror. I love a good horror film. Hollywood has seemingly forgotten how to do that for many years (feel free to rummage through all my past reviews for my true feelings on the subject).
And good horror films have a generally well-followed layout. You have your setup scenes, where we find out more about the hero/heroine, the soon-to-die costars and possibly why the killer is doing what they do. Then you have your build, where things are starting to get bad, but there is still a strength-in-numbers mentality between the cast, so it is not to the point where everyone is running around terrified. After that, we come to the climax, where the killer/monster reveals themselves, taking out almost every single person we met in the first segment.
The final boy or final girl is there, and maybe one or two other people, to kinda leave the audience guessing if there will be a surprise changeup. Once the final person is revealed, you have the moment where they gather their wits, turn the tables on the protagonist, and commence to reverse the hunter/prey dynamic. Regardless, if the killer is killed, incapacitated or otherwise removed from this plane of reality, the final person walks off into the sunset: broken and battered, but stronger than ever. Sure, there may be some twists in this, but all the greats follow this basic structure, because it works.
The Menu is a new film on HBO Max that I watched this week. The movie begins with Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and his date, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), attending a very exclusive dining experience, hosted by Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). Other guests include a movie star named George Diaz (John Leguizamo), a renowned food critic named Lillian (Janet McTeer) and several others. They arrive via boat to a secluded island, where they meet Chef Slowik’s assistant, Elsa (Hong Chau). Things start off quickly, with meals and food being offered quickly. But Margot cannot help feeling as if something is off with the Chef and his crew.
What secrets could be waiting for them as the night goes on?
As I said before, a good horror movie has the setup, the build, the climax and the resolution. Director Mark Mylod has seemingly decided to do these, but out of order. Now, if done right, mixing things up is not a bad thing. Some great horror films have taken things out of order, such as in Barbarian, where we have the setup, and the build, then it resets and does the setup and builds all over again in its second act. The Menu gave us the setup, but then seemingly skipped the build and goes right into the climax.
This does two things for me. First, it kills the need to try to guess what will happen next. Margot starts feeling like something is off, then BOOM… everything hits the fan. No build-up. No chance for the audience to figure out what is happening. We just hit the climax and all hell breaks loose.
The second sticking point for me is now that we have rocketed to the climax, everything that happens from there is slow. We hit the biggest reveal in the movie early, and then we just spend the next acts of the movie with the characters coming to terms with what is going on. By the time we reach the end, it’s hardly worth it. The payoff was seen a mile away, making it have little to no impact.
The Menu explodes, then just kinda cruises to the finish line.
Other than this major fault, The Menu is a decent horror comedy. I chuckled at some of the dark jokes thrown around. I enjoyed seeing some of the characters find their way to the afterlife in ways that seemed appropriate for the types of people they were. I feel Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy have the strongest connection with each other (even though her character is supposed to be with Tyler), and they play off each other very well. You can even say Chef Slowik takes a liking to Margot and allows her to do things no other guest could do. In short, except for a massive mistake in its makeup, The Menu is not a bad film, just one that is not complete.
I give The Menu three out of five stars. Director Mylod attempts to mess with the ingredients to a good film but didn’t leave it in the oven long enough to cook thoroughly. The missing build phase is egregious, and hopefully, this serves as a reminder that sometimes the tried and true is the best way to go.