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.