The fact that Ralph Feinnes’ The Menu draws its inspiration from a real restaurant setting makes one of its most classic horror moments even better.
The real-life inspiration behind The Menu gives new meaning and significance to its satire on culinary pretense, criticism, and class divides. On the surface, The Menu harps on the well-worn “isolated from the society” setting to drive its survival narrative. With each culinary course on its central menu, stranger events transpire, intensifying its overarching doom to raise the stakes of the game of cat-and-mouse that ensues between Ralph Fiennes’ antagonist Chef Slowik and his privileged guests. However, beyond its satirical take on the skewed lavishness of luxury dining, The Menu also has a serious core that highlights the struggles of a demented, purposeless artist.
Owing to The Menu‘s setting, it is hard not to assume that the movie’s storyline borrows tried-and-tested survival horror tropes and only weaves them into its culinary yarn. Not to mention, since The Menu’s plot does not take its capitalism-fueled chaos too seriously, it’s easy to overlook its direct parallels to the real world when focusing on its critique of society. However, to ensure that its realism is as evident as its horror, The Menu ingeniously emphasizes on the subtle details that make its flawed characters relatable.
Because of this emotional resonance that dawns in The Menu‘s ending moments, it is not surprising that it is based on screenwriter Will Tracy’s real restaurant experience. As Tracy revealed in an interview (via Bon Appétit), he drew his inspiration for The Menu‘s script from his experience at a high-end restaurant on a remote Norwegian island. Like Margot feels out of place among the elites when Chef Julian uses food to ridicule them, the screenwriter was claustrophobic during his first food-as-a-story restaurant encounter. He recalled how customers were “being held hostage” at the restaurant only for the sake of a story.
If The Menu horror narative had trodden the same path as run-of-the-mill survival thrillers, its second half would have never risen above a predictable game of tag. While the terrors of being chased by a murderous chef would still be entertaining, what binds The Menu together is the bizarre dynamic between Julian, his staff, the guests, and Margot. The true horror of The Menu is not in Chef Julian’s ulterior motive that begins to surface with each course. It is, in fact, in the unexplained nature of the truth behind the chef’s past, his tales, his secret silver-door room, the obliviousness of the guests, and Margot’s clever realization.
By drawing inspiration from a real-life restaurant experience, The Menu takes an unbiased look at all the forces involved in a restaurant setup and depicts the truth behind their perspectives on food and dining. This allows the movie to draw a realistic picture of the ambiguous power dynamic between service providers and their customers. In addition, it improves the characters in The Menu by showing how even their sense of entitlement, resentment, and lack of self-awareness make them intrinsically human and reflective of real individuals – especially in a volatile situation.