There is much to chew on from this menu. You’ll be drooling at the food, wary of the company, and psyched out by the Chef of this exclusive restaurant who serves up an intimidating meal. Director Mark Mylod (Succession, Game of Thrones, Shameless) with screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy had fun with this one. It all looks so elegant and enjoyable, until it isn’t.
Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) is a celebrity chef who cooks by his own rules. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his domicile and exclusive restaurant in on a secluded island. Your reservation must be accepted in advance, if you can even get one and you’ll pay a fortune for delicacies that are served in courses with detailed explanations of their exotic ingredients and preparation. Chef is an imposing figure whose smile is a bit creepy. Even his impeccably dressed and well-mannered staff is led by General in charge, Elsa, (Hong Chau – The Whale). She is a little off and off-putting, and Hong Chau gives another textured, almost haunting performance.
Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) who has a perpetual pouty, sullen look, and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) a food snob of the highest order, arrive at Chef’s exclusive restaurant, Hawthorne, along with the other special guests. They expect to enjoy a tasty evening serving up stories along with the courses. The guests are an eclectic mix. When Margot and Tyler arrive, they find themselves in the company of three young, “cooler than the room”, already drunk tech types, Bryce (Rob Yang), Soren (Arturo Castro) and Dave (Mark St. Cyr).
Then there’s Anne and Richard (Judith Light and Reed Birney) a rich older couple who have been regular customers. You’d think they know the drill and would put the others at ease. Of course, there’s a prominent restaurant critic in attendance, eager to see what Chef has to wow her. Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer) brought Ted (Paul Adelstein) her feckless magazine editor to be part of this extravagant experience. And a celebrity always has to be in the mix. This time, it’s John Leguizamo who is only identified as Movie Star in the credits. His dinner mate that evening is his young assistant, Felicity (Aimee Carrero). He’s obviously excited and kind of loud, looking forward to tasting some pretty and exotic small plates.
Chef Slowik loves having an attentive audience listening to his detailed descriptions of what they are about to taste as it is served by his obedient staff. When he says jump, everybody jumps and exclaims, “Yes Chef!.”
As the courses are served, he has some biting comments and when Margot refuses to eat what is served, he gets pissed. Chef is confused by Margot. He can’t seem to figure her out while he successfully plays puppeteer to the rest of his guests. So he starts to pick on her. You think she’ll have to bend, but Margot is not as pliable as Chef thinks. Ana Taylor-Joy plays this role to the max. She feels something is up and stands up to the chef who doesn’t like that she’s not eating and getting in the way of his schedule. She leaves the table and starts exploring the house that Chef built in the middle of nowhere. Elsa tries to get her back on track, knowing that Margot is in dangerous territory.
Cinematographer Peter Deming’s shots of the food preparation and the presentation of the are exquisite. The dishes are so good that even mortal fear can’t keep the patrons from eating and savoring the food. Fiennes even manages to bring some dark comedy from his character as he plans more and more bizarre dishes to accompany the customers he obviously despises. Little by little, laser etched tortillas reveal unnerving secrets about each guest.
Writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy create a beautiful, yet threatening tableau. They give Slowik, in Ralph Fiennes’ hands, absolute dictatorial power over his island/restaurant and especially his staff. And Chef wields that power with ruthless authority.
As the story unfolds it becomes more and more mesmerizing, seducing us to want any morsel that will reveal anything about Slowik, his staff or his guests. The fascinating part of the script (no spoiler here) is that Chef never keeps secret how he intends the evening to come to a close. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but any way you slice it, this psychological horror thriller delivers a lot more heat.
Searchlight Pictures 1Hour 46 Minutes R
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