The rich are often the subject of commentary and satire in TV series like “Succession.” But, often, their elitist attitudes and extravagant spending behaviors are unbecoming to those who cannot afford such luxuries. Even more so to those in the service industry. This is why a satirical film like Mark Mylod’s “The Menu” is a tasty feast that deserves to be savored.
“The Menu,” which stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, and Ralph Fiennes, is the classic tale of eating the rich. Though it’s not so literal as it is figurative, the idea often associated with class conflict and anti-capitalism sparkles throughout the entire film. It’s not subtle, but it packs quite the punch. And even though one could see where the film is heading as the story is told as a tasting course menu.
The film follows the obnoxious and self-professed foodie Tyler and his date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), joining a select group of celebrities, food critics, politicians, and tech bro business partners. Margot doesn’t seem as interested and is somewhat shocked by the price of admission to eat at the exclusive Hawthorne, a restaurant located on a remote island. The rest see eating more as an indulgence rather than a necessity. They don’t appreciate the work, the worker, or even the ingredients that go into each course. As such, Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) deems it necessary to end their lives and announces that they will all end by the night’s end.
Of course, everyone but Margot could care less and see his introduction to each course as a bit. None know that they contributed to Slowik’s decision to kill everyone, including the staff, at the restaurant. Of course, it takes them a few courses to understand what is happening, even if Slowik’s unsettling monologues clearly reflect the pain and anguish that he’s felt in his career.
And this is where “The Menu” takes an unexpected twist. With each passing course, the dark comedy slowly builds towards something new while letting the commentary on the wealthy continue. It becomes a horror thriller. Slowik’s vengeance is far more nuanced than just attacking the rich for being ungrateful, unappreciative, and greedy. He’s directing his anger at those who took the joy of cooking away from him. This is why he sees a particular kinship with Margot, who is also in the service industry. For spoilers’ sake, we won’t reveal what that is, but that twist allows us to connect to these two.
There will also be moments where the film tries to create empathy for the upper-class diners. Certain characters are victims of being associated with those who deserve Slowik’s wrath but still have a certain level of contempt. And to see how it all unfolds through the lens of each dish is genuinely worth watching over and over again.
But what makes “The Menu” home entertainment edition worthwhile is its bonus features. Owners have the choice of watching it in its 17-minute entirety or savor it its three courses separately. For what it’s worth, it’s highly recommended that you watch the film before cutting into the bonus features.
The “First Course” sees director Mark Mylod talk about the meaning behind the film, the catalyst that drives Chef Slowik to go insane and kill all of his diners, and the diners’ crimes against him and humanity. “Everything in the design, every idea, every pallet, within that building, we wanted to be created specifically to represent the vision of Ralph Fiennes’ character, Chef Slowik,” he said.
Fiennes sees Chef Slovik as the master of his domain, and his religion is food. And since Mylod wasn’t familiar with the world, he got world-renowned and Three-Michelin Star chef Dominique Crenn to help consult with the food design and understanding the demeanor of a chef. “The philosophy of Chef Slovik came from conversations with Dominique Crenn, who would eventually come on board to design the menu,” Mylod said.
Crenn talks about how she made the menu to tell a story and how her conversations with Fiennes helped him better understand who a chef is and how he runs a kitchen. Mylod wanted a certain degree of coldness to each of Slovik’s courses. It would purposefully be beautiful but at the same time be dead. “All those dishes that we are creating are challenging at times but yet still interesting for me,” Crenn said. “To take me away from what I am doing every day, but to also create something that I never created before. I am having fun here.”
Multiple other chefs and Crenn’s sous chef also came in to consult, which elevated the film’s authenticity. Mylod even cast real chefs and gave them roles according to their experiences. The kitchen staff even went through what Mylod describes as a boot camp to help give them a better understanding of what each scene called for and what they would be doing during that time.
Food stylist Kendall Gensler would help capture Crenn’s dishes and retrofit them to work within the confines of the camera and correctly hit the lighting. And you’ll notice how the design of the food, from Slovik’s menu to the cheeseburger, was all shot in a style similar to that of Netflix’s “Chef Table.”
As for the Second Course, we learn more about the characters and the Hawthorne restaurant. It is understood that the diners are there for the experience. Production designer Ethan Tobman comments on how food functions as theater, comedy, drama, and satire for “The Menu.” Tobman talks about how Slovik based his menu designs and the island’s landscapes and how the path to the restaurant reflects how he’s bent some of those environments to his will by introducing elements and shapes that would never occur naturally to the island.
We also from costume designer Amy Westcott, who talked about Fiennes’ Chef Slovik’s chef’s jacket. Fiennes commented how there shouldn’t be any indication of him being anything other than ordinary. “It should be like a priest or surgeon,” he said. Which is why we don’t see any embellishment or insignia.
The other actors also talk about their respective characters and how their costumes helped formulate their performances. Additionally, Mylod shot the film with two cameras to capture improvised moments. Co-writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy praised Mylod for finding those moments of messiness and making it feel like you are in the dining room amongst other patrons who are having multiple conversations going on at once.
The dessert course is prefaced with a spoiler warning that they are supposed to devour the film experience first before biting into their sweet treat. “Jumping straight to Dessert will spoil more than your appetite.”
For the dessert course, we learned how Mylod incorporated the very image of Grant Achatz’s deconstructed dessert of smashed-up meringues on the table and used the “Chef’s Table’s” “top-shot-down” on the table triggered the idea for turning the entire restaurant into a dessert table.
So Tobman created a few designs before settling on what he could do logistically. Then, using the help of a few Go-Pros, he taped off the exact dimensions of the set with tables and chairs to match and then reversed-engineered it. And from that, we learn how the marshmallow straitjacket ponchos would turn the diners themselves into human s’mores.
“We landed on this idea of the s’more being this iconic final course before we all head into oblivion,” Mylod said. After sending a new draft, Fiennes wanted to bring more to the finale. Not knowing what a s’more was, the actor just riffed on what Slovik might say about it, and Reiss and Tracy just went with it. “I think it was owed to not only his character but to the movie and to the other diners in the room,” Tracy said.
Mylod then talks about the marshmallow straitjacket ponchos, all real, of course. However, none of the cast wearing them couldn’t move at all. And what’s more, they needed to figure out the chocolate part. Aimee Carrero joked about how shooting with the chocolate hats was uncomfortable but also full of laughs.
And it all ends with a more nuanced understanding of what fire, the most crucial element for any s’more, brings to a film like “The Menu.”
“The Menu” also comes with three deleted scenes.
Below is a full list of the Bonus Features you’ll be able to find on the digital version of “The Menu.” Bonus features vary by product and retailer.
Featurettes: Open Kitchen: A Look Inside The Menu – Feast on the special ingredients of The Menu to see how director Mark Mylod and his formidable cast, the biting script, and renowned chef consultants concocted the perfect recipe to bring authenticity and dark humor to the film’s high-end culinary world.
First Course: Take a seat at the table as director Mark Mylod delves into some of the key ingredients that went into crafting The Menu. Meet the renowned chefs and food stylists who brought their culinary expertise to the set.
Second Course: Savor the world-building of Hawthorn, from kitchen “boot camp” to the meticulous details of the production design. Hear from the cast and writers about the director’s naturalistic approach to capturing the nuances of the performances.
Dessert: Dig into the creation of the s’mores sequence as costume designer Amy Westcott explains the painstaking process of sewing ponchos made of actual marshmallows. The cast discusses chocolate hats and the absurd predicament of their characters.
Deleted Scenes: And for a mignardise, enjoy three deleted scenes.
“The Menu” is available to own on Digital now and arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on January 17.