The Menu Review: Ralph Fiennes Serves Up A Delightfully Wicked Feast [TIFF]

Tonight you'll be dining at Hawthorne, one of the most exclusive restaurants in the world. Located on a small, picturesque island where all the food is grown, raised, harvested, and slaughtered, Hawthorne only serves 12 customers per night at $1250 a head. That sort of exclusivity and whopping price tag means you won't be getting any old food — you'll be served deconstructed works of art; exercises in molecular gastronomy, all prepared by Chef Slowik and his committed staff. But tonight's menu will be special. And let's just say ... different. 

That's the setup for "The Menu," director Mark Mylod's delightfully deranged horror-comedy-food porn mash-up. A group of 12 have come to the island to dine, including obsessive foody Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and his date, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy). While everyone seated for the night's meal is obscenely wealthy — including a powerful food critic (Janet McTeer), a washed-up actor (John Leguizamo), a couple who have dined at Hawthrone at least 11 times (Judith Light and Reed Birney), and more — Margot is an outsider. She's not from this world, and she's not very impressed by the uber-pretentious, artsy-fartsy food being served up (one of the menu items includes a dish called a "Breadless Bread Plate").

But the food (or lack thereof) is soon the least of Margot's concerns — because every diner at the restaurant is in serious danger. Maybe everyone should've gone to McDonald's instead. 

Ralph Fiennes is the reason the movie works as well as it does

Please forgive me for what I'm about to type, because this sort of claim always sounds like a cop-out — but the less you know about "The Menu," the more delicious the feast will be. What I will tell you is that the courses grow steadily more deranged, and while at first the majority of the guests think this is all a show — "stagecraft," McTeer's critic character calls it — it slowly, horrifically dawns on everyone that this is very much for real. 

The set-up is sound, and the film is gloriously twisted. But "The Menu" also lags — once we're clued into what's happening, some of the fun is gone. And some of the set-ups — like a mysterious silver door — don't really pay off. No matter — "The Menu" gets by with a very game cast, especially Ralph Fiennes, who is pitch-perfect as the enigmatic chef. Fiennes speaks in a soothing voice that is somehow terrifying, and he gazes at everyone with dark, knowing eyes. We don't quite understand why he's doing what he's doing, but we buy into it because Fiennes sells it so well. Taylor-Joy, with her unique, almost unearthly quality, is also a sturdy presence, gazing with confused terror at what's unfolding around her. And Hoult is a treat as the increasingly nasty Tyler, who remains unfazed at the horrors abounding. 

Colin Stetson's whimsical, orchestra-driven score lends it all an ominous elegance, while amusing text appears on the screen to give us the rundown of each elaborate meal being served. Mylod stages things with stylish flourishes, like when the camera slowly floats around the dining room as the guests first begin to eat, focusing in and out of various conversations. The filmmaker also lingers lovingly on the various meals being preserved, and I'd advise you to not see this on an empty stomach, lest you dash from the theater when the credits roll in search of sustenance. And as much fun as I had with "The Menu," it also left me hungry for a little more. But this is a dining experience worth the price of admission for Fiennes' sinister performance. Now, check, please.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10