Beyond Fest movie review: 'The Menu' makes scathing statement through horror

Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes, center) presides over his kitchen in "The Menu." Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures
1 of 5 | Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes, center) presides over his kitchen in "The Menu." Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 11 (UPI) -- The Menu, which screened Monday at Los Angeles film festival Beyond Fest, is an engrossing psychological thriller full of justifiable outrage against the elite. It's also a biting satire, pun intended, of the service industry, skewering those who take it for granted, pun still intended.

Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) welcomes 12 guests at his exclusive $1,250-per-meal restaurant, Hawthorne. The dinner quickly becomes a mind game that exposes each diner's misdeeds.


Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) brings Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) as his date. He's a die-hard foodie who fanboys out over Slowik, but she's just along for the ride and unimpressed.

Other tables include an actor (John Leguizamo) and his assistant (Aimee Carrero), food critic Lilian Bloom (Janet McTeer) and her editor (Paul Adelstein), an older couple (Judith Light and Reed Birney) who have run out of things to talk about, a trio of businessmen (Rob Yang, Arturo Castro and Mark St. Cyr) and an elderly women (Rebecca Koon) dining solo.


The Menu establishes the personalities of every diner with brief scenes at each table. Diners realize they're not just there for a meal when Slowik delivers personalized attacks on each guest through the food he serves.

The mind game escalates violently. Since Hawthorne is on a private island, the guests can't escape.

Only Margot has the upper hand, or at least equal footing against Slowik. She wasn't Tyler's original date on the reservation, so she's a wild card for whom Slowik wasn't prepared.

The waiters are unphased by customer threats because it's their show. House staff general Elsa (Hong Chau) particularly relishes giving the guests cryptic, ominous warnings.

Slowik is making a statement on rich clientele who take lavish luxuries for granted. It's heightened for cinema, but The Menu makes astute social observations about how customers tend to abuse people in the service industry at any level.

Each of the guests represents a form of social ill, and each is equally guilty of a certain form of entitlement. The Menu unpacks the characters' sins throughout the dinner.

The critic is an easy target, because nobody likes getting bad reviews, but Seth Reiss and Will Tracy's script thankfully avoids taking pot shots at her. The actor is using Hawthorne for status to prove his value -- that he got into an exclusive prestigious event.


The businessmen try to buy their way out of any responsibility and the old married couple are on autopilot. The lone diner has a surprising connection not to be spoiled.

Tyler is obsessing so much over every detail and interaction that he's removed himself from the actual experience of which he's a fan. Margot is just on a really bad date that continues to get worse. So who can survive Slowik's wrath?

Each of his courses are deviously manipulative, like a highbrow Saw. There is also a macabre sense of humor in the pride Slowik and all his chefs take in their morbid plans.

Mark Mylod directs the cast in mostly one room. Some pair off, but the relationships and peril expertly unfold on camera.

Anyone in the service industry who's ever thought about taking revenge on customers can derive vicarious pleasure from The Menu. The message is that everyone should be kind to people who serve them, even if you're paying them, but delivered in an engrossing, outrageous tale.

Searchlight Pictures will release The Menu in theaters Nov. 18.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.


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