Succession director Mark Mylod’s black comedy The Menu serves up a large helping of satire, and the main course is lightly roasted celebrity chefs, with a side of flambeed foodies.
The film’s premise is that one of the world’s most exclusive restaurants, situated on a remote island and run by a brilliant but famously reclusive chef (Ralph Fiennes), is staging an invitation-only degustation meal that promises to be the apex of said chef’s storied career.
But all is not as it seems, and this special menu and its increasingly devilish dishes have been specifically tailored to the diners and their personal relationships to each other and the chef.
There’s the tough food critic, played imperiously by Janet McTeer (Ozark), the actor in the twilight of his career (John Leguizamo), and a trio of obnoxious hedge fund bros.
Perhaps the cruellest satire of all is reserved for the foodie, who is played to pathetic perfection by Nicholas Hoult.
Mylod, who admits he prefers fish and chips to fine dining — a bit like the character Anya Taylor-Joy plays in the film — deftly plates up the growing unease with the precision of a Noma chef placing micro-herbs with tweezers.
It must be said there is more than a little irony to a movie that skewers chefs for being overly pretentious, while it looks to elevate the historically low-brow horror-thriller genre.
So, is Mylod’s movie a tasting menu of deconstructed genre filmmaking, or is it actually just a fancy cheeseburger?
“That’s a brilliant question. I love the question,” the English director says on a Zoom call with The West Australian.
“My whole philosophy in coming to the film … is that, primarily, it’s a really fun ride, or at least I’ve really tried to make it really fun.
“I do personally see the restaurant as somewhat of a microcosm of society, and there is, you know, some comment there (about) the human element of it, the frailties of the humans on both sides, the kitchen and the dining room; that human need to belong, whether it be in the form of a cult, in terms of the kitchen staff, or just that flawed side of us that wants to be seen and to be elevated within the tribe.
“I do the same in Succession, where you take flawed people, and you try to give context to that — you don’t glorify them, you don’t necessarily forgive them, but you have context for their behaviour.”
Holding the film’s plot together is the central performance of Fiennes, who Mylod could not speaking more highly of.
“It’s so rare to find an actor that has such an extraordinarily wide range and potential in his performance” Mylod says.
“Ralph was able to embody that character’s self-loathing, hit the poignancy of the character, this artist who’s lost his way, and the psychotic side, without ever playing into a moustache-twirling baddie.
“And, of course, and this is incredibly important, he’s able to bring all that emotional, poignancy and tragedy and also be hilarious, and it’s so difficult to think of any other actor that could do that — he just seems like he’s born to play that role.”
The Menu is in cinemas now.