Foodie films come in two flavours: joyous life-affirming celebrations of family, community and sharing (Babette’s Feast, Big Night) or horrifying denunciations of consumerism and despair (La Grande Bouffe, The Meaning of Life). This horror comedy about a hyper-exclusive restaurant which must be visited on its own island comes from screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy and director Mark Mylod, and it is very much in the latter category. Its chapter-heading intertitles are the menu items as the meal progresses and they become increasingly alarming.
The Menu has something in common with that recent much-praised award winner Triangle of Sadness, about plutocrats gorging themselves on a luxury cruise ship; in both, a humble burger is presented in contrast to the culpable fine dining. But The Menu is more controlled and more interesting, with one or two actual laughs – though I have to admit as always to being impatient with the expectation that at some level, and whatever the satirical context, we are supposed to swoon at all these connoisseur gourmand details.
Ralph Fiennes, his face a mask of fastidious hauteur, plays Julian Slowik, the head chef at the legendary establishment where the super-rich and super-important fight to get a table. Excitably, a new batch of customers have shown up on the boat that takes them over to the remote island like an Agatha Christie ensemble. Among the guests is Nicholas Hoult playing Tyler, a wannabe chef and Slowik fanboy who is obsessed with the great man and with the suspicion that Slowik despises him. His date for the evening is Margot, who has a level-headed scepticism about all this dining-as-theatre display; she is charismatically played by Anya Taylor-Joy who makes an entrance with a delicate showpony gait. The always formidable Hong Chau plays Elsa, front-of-house manager and high priestess of the Julian cult.
And so the evening begins, with emperor’s-new-cuisine touches including a “breadless plate” with no bread, just tiny globs of flavoured goo around the side. It becomes clear that Slowik has become wearied with humanity and their vanity, greed and inability to appreciate his artistry, wearied also with his business investor and wearied with himself. Like Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz, he has seen into the heart of degustation darkness. Tonight’s menu will be his climactic masterpiece – and guess what’s on it?
The Menu’s basic ideas are pretty obvious and its cartoony unreality only goes so far, with nothing of the authentic pain of, say, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, which showed Channing Tatum’s wrestler in his hotel room, sick of his fitness regimen, simply ordering everything on room-service and gobbling it all in an orgy of self-hate. But it is well-acted and well directed by Mylod with tasty side plates of droll humour.
• The Menu is released on 18 November in cinemas.