Slowik’s tasting menu structures the film, and works as a kind of Rorschach test that characters take and evaluate, course by course, each hearing what they want in his stories and descriptions, and seeing what they want in his glacial, highly manipulated presentations.
“He’s insulting you,” Margot says when the bread course arrives — without any actual bread. “No, no, no,” Tyler insists. “He’s telling a story!” As it turns out, they’re both right.
In “The Menu,” the chef is a psychopathic authoritarian commanding an army of cooks to execute his dark vision of moral absolutism and retribution. As satire, it might be stronger if those cooks didn’t remain nameless, faceless and mostly without lines. Instead, the film focuses on the increasingly frantic diners, occasionally nudging the audience to see it from the chef’s point of view: He wasn’t always a monster! He became a monster through years of devoting himself to pleasing rich people. Now, like them, he’s completely numb to the pleasures of his craft.
Though the characters don’t directly reference the news, the world off the island is essentially ours right now. The restaurant business is fragile, dysfunctional and possibly in the midst of an upheaval as abusive chefs like Slowik are in and out of court for sexual assault, vulnerable workers find power in unionizing and stories about the dangers of meat-processing plants make national headlines. But the takeaway of Slowik’s breakdown in “The Menu” is that change isn’t possible. The whole system has to be burned down.
In “Fresh,” Mimi Cave’s feature debut, a woman gets tangled up in an even more gruesome business that feeds the rich. Noa, played by Daisy Edgar-Jones, is single, and having terrible luck on the dating apps when she meets a nice guy at the grocery store. Steve, played by Sebastian Stan, is handsome, charming, a great cook — and a doctor!