The Menu is a different kind of horror movie

The Menu is getting a very short run at the Morris Theater, only a couple of days and then it’s out tonight. It’s not exactly holiday fare, I guess. I got in to see it last night, in a nearly empty theater (the competition running on the second screen is Avatar, which doesn’t interest me in the slightest).

It’s worth seeing! I didn’t know what to expect, and was continually surprised. I could summarize it as your standard horror/slasher movie: obsessed chef with a cult following invites obnoxious upper-class snobs to a private dinner in order to kill them all, the sort of thing you might expect a Vincent Price to headline. But that’s not it at all. Ralph Fiennes is marvelously intense as a chef who has lost all joy in his craft, and plays it with a sorrowful despair. His guests might be frightened at first, but mostly they sink into resignation. “We’re all going to die tonight,” one says, while passively remaining seated at the table. They all stay and eat — no, taste and savor — the weirdly finicky plates of little tidbits artfully tweezered into miniature tableaus in front of them.

Instead of the traditional grisly-murder-one-after-the-other, most of the diners survive to the very end. They instead face psychological torture, becoming increasingly aware of their doom. Even the one set-piece event, in which the men are released onto the island with a 45 second head start before the waitstaff will hunt them down, doesn’t end with any killing — they’re caught and brought back and sit down for the next course. It was more horrifying than culminating the hunt in gore and splatter.

Even the staff are caught up in a cult of depression and despair. No one will get out alive, and all seem to welcome the release of death. There’s no point in living, you know. You’ll never be great enough, other people will suck all the life out of you eventually. Serve the chef, that is all.

The exception to all the doom-and-gloom is Anya Taylor-Joy (is she going to be in every movie from now on?) who plays a prostitute hired by one of the pretentious twits to be his plus one. She is mainly pissed off when she learns her client knew ahead of time that this dinner was going to end in death, and he hired her because he know he couldn’t attend without a partner. She fights back by reminding the chef of a time when he wasn’t jaded and cynical, and even gets an honest smile out of him.

The real monster in the movie turns out to be wealth and capitalism and greed, and how it consumes people with ennui. But it is at heart a true horror movie, it’s just lacking an Abominable Dr Phibes and replaces him with a sense of sorrowful futility.

A perfect Christmas movie!


  1. birgerjohansson says

    Another film where meals played an important role was “Doctor Fisher of Geneva, or the Bomb Party ” book by Graham Greene.

  2. woozy says

    But does it have fava beans?

    I haven’t seen it, but nowhere in PZ’s review or any I read is it stated or implied that any victims are eaten.

    Then again, I haven’t seen it and from what I’ve read I’m having a hard time conceiving or imagining just what this psychological terror and torture could possibly be, but all the reviews seem to indicate it is there and effective.

  3. René says

    Ectopically, I’d say in full Birger tradition, some good news for us SAD-affected: tomorrow UTC 21:48 it will climb back! (I think that that will be Morris time 4:48 pm.)

  4. says

    This is a horror movie, and I hate that genre as a whole; but your review did shed some new light on this one. One thing I liked is the fact that the only survivor was the person from the lowest/least-respected social stratum (at least in everyone else’s eyes): the sex-worker. And she got out by doing what good sex-workers do: understanding what her client (in this case, the loony nihilistic head chef) REALLY wanted (as opposed to what he said, or thought, he wanted), and letting him know that she understood him.

    Horror movies sometimes function as satire, though of a very clumsy and heavy-handed sort. I don’t think this one was satirizing greed or capitalism in general; but I do think it was having a go at the smallness, stupidity, incompetence and utter spinelessness of people near the top of a capitalist system, who have, or should have, power to shield themselves from harm, but either don’t know how to use it, or are too scared of losing their position by going against the system/plan/campaign/whatever. That’s one thing I hate about horror movies: viewers are clearly invited to root for the evil psycho-killer and have no sympathy for his victims — which is okay if the victims are all abysmal assholes, as they (mostly) were in this movie; but much less okay when they’re just immature teenagers getting slaughtered for wanting to have sex.

    I know a lot of us are old enough to remember The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie by Luis Bunuel. Am I the only one who sees a lot of similarity between these two movies?

  5. birgerjohansson says

    There is also a 1980s film by Van Greenaway: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.
    Helen Mirren plays the wife, always worth watching.

    René @ 5 thanks… BTW the Sun rises 9.28, sets 1.46 pm. The shortest day indeed.