Revenge is a dish best served cold is an expression that’s not often meant literally. But the idea of servers and cooks spitting in the food of customers who complain or are ungrateful is one that exists, even if diners would like to hope that it doesn’t actually happen all that often. Fine dining can bring with it its own level of entitlement, with service escalated to an absurd level to make customers feel like they’re getting an exclusive experience. That excess serves as a jumping-off point for vicious satire in The Menu, a food-centric horror movie.
Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) joins Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) for a high-society dinner that costs $1,250 per person and requires reservations months in advance. Located on the very private Hawthorne Island, the meal is curated by a chef (Ralph Fiennes) who takes his work very seriously. While Tyler buys fully into every ridiculous detail of each lavish course, Margot starts to realize that something seems very off. The chef insists that there is a meaning behind each part of the meal, and all the ultra-rich guests soon learn that they are part of the event, something which doesn’t suggest they’ll end up enjoying a satisfying end to the meal.
This is the first film from Succession director Mark Mylod in more than a decade, and it feels very informed by his work on the Emmy-winning series. Its characters are the type of people who would indulge in this kind of meal without giving it a second thought and would surely be deserving of whatever punishment the many people they have abused might be able to conceive. But this film exists in an even more exaggerated world, one in which its elite personalities barely react to the increasingly worrisome and violent nature of their luxury meal, as if they really do think of themselves as invulnerable and untouchable, able to pay their way out of any situation.
It’s not difficult to pick up on the social commentary on class that this film offers, with Margot early on pointing on to Tyler that, when the sous chef addresses Tyler by name, he doesn’t even think to ask him what his name is. This film represents what might happen if those employed in the service industry revolted against those who could never imagine having to do anything for someone else. The twist, which is what makes this film particularly clever, is that they are still ready to prepare the most exquisite and delicious meal for them to enjoy as they play out their revenge. It emphasizes the lack of self-awareness that comes from those who treat others as if they are beneath them, so distracted by the regal facade that they don’t see what is actually happening right in front of them.
The Menu boasts a crowded cast that suggests it must have been to be along for the ride, with some players, like Judith Light as one half of a couple in attendance, given little to do, while others, like Hong Chau and John Leguizamo, have substantial material as a restaurant employee and celebrity actor, respectively. Fiennes was born to play this role and has fun leaning into the chef’s intensity, while Taylor-Joy is well cast opposite him as the one attendee not impressed – or appetized by – his food. Hoult also commits to his character, droning on about the quality and majesty of everything he is seeing and consuming, almost too boring and over-the-top to be real. Audiences hopefully shouldn’t recognize too much of themselves in the doomed diners, but this film provides an ego check while also serving up some deliciously twisted entertainment.
Following its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, The Menu will be released theatrically by Searchlight Pictures on November 18th.