Written by Bob Garver
Like the cozy restaurant setting of “The Menu,” the stage at my showing of the movie last Friday was sparsely populated. But though there was little attendance, there was an extraordinary sense of kinship in the air. The laughs and groans can be attributed to members of the audience, as well as the occasional biting comment (including one of mine, after the movie), and I think we all got a sense of what made each other tick. One thing was for sure: Like the characters in the movie, we’ve all been through this intense experience together.
The film follows audience alternate Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) as she travels with her date Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) to a private island that is home to the upscale Hawthorne restaurant. Other diners include a food critic (Janet McTeer), a movie star (John Leguizamo), and other wealthy types. The group is greeted by Mr. de Elsa (Hong Chu) who leads them to the dining room, where they meet world-famous chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). Slowik will be in charge of everything this evening, from the food to the entertainment. Both may be more to his taste than the guests.
Reviews are mixed on the first course which includes a rock and a second plate of absent bread. Everyone is uncomfortable with a third round to criminalize tortillas and a story of violence from Slowik’s past. The real game-changer comes with the fourth cycle, which includes a display of violence rather than a story. Slowik’s intentions soon become clear: he and the Hawthorne staff are going to kill everyone, including themselves and all the customers. But first, he’ll break the spirits of his elite guests, “playing with his food” as it were, though I’m going to shoot down a popular theory and say his plan doesn’t involve cannibalism.
Simply put, Julian Slowik is the most memorable movie villain of the year – perhaps in the last several years. Fiennes imbues the character with menace, wit, humor, and most of all charisma. He’s got a whole kitchen staff under his thumb, and it looks like he’s an entire restaurant full of victims, too. Nobody besides Margot makes an honest attempt to escape. Nobody even needs to restrict it. Heck, no one even complains when they get billed before dessert. It could be argued that patrons know they don’t fit in with the large following stationed at the exits, or they know they deserve what they get, but I think it’s all about them wondering with morbid curiosity what comes next from Slowik’s Kitchen surprises. This is why the rushed ending was such a huge disappointment to me. I was hoping Slowik’s plan for the characters’ fates would be a little more… catered to each one individually.
While Fiennes gives the standout performance on “The Menu,” I don’t want to change Taylor-Joy and Hoult short. Margot doesn’t put up with crazy staff or overbearing guests and Slowwick’s only shortcoming is that he himself doesn’t know what to do with this fellow member of the service industry. As for Tyler, he’s more excited about being allowed to dine under Slowik’s roof than he is about the beautiful woman sitting across from him. In a movie where half of the characters are trying to commit murder, he’s somehow the most distasteful because of his simple sympathy. The quirks of the characters, mind games, and dark humor all come together to make The List one of the best films of the year. Not bad for a movie whose whole point is that a cheeseburger is both a pleasure and an honor to serve.
“The List” is rated R for strong violent/disturbing content, ubiquitous language, and some sexual references. Its running time is 107 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at email@example.com.
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