Mark Mylod’s gastronomic satirical thriller skewers the “foodie” world with relish, pairing a deconstruction of the participants with a zesty assault on how it serves to drain the joy of food that should sit at its heart. A handful of diners have been invited to an exclusive tasting menu at Chef Slowik’s remote island restaurant. The wild card, and audience perspective, is Margot — a last minute substitution by Tyler when dumped by his girlfriend. Anya Taylor-Joy’s expressiveness is perfect for Margot’s utter disdain for the theatrics taken so seriously by the guests — she is the only one to realise they are being insulted, and confident enough to refuse to play Slowik’s game. Meanwhile the verisimilitude of the meticulously constructed food and minimalist decor creates a distorted space within which it feels the film could frequently veer in any direction. The Menu presents the world as split into servers and consumers, though it satirises both sides of the divide: Slowik’s self-obsession is no better than the diners’, albeit more purposeful, holding his staff in cult-like sway. The film’s cruelty, however, is reserved predominantly for the wealthy, its wider critique being the blight of capitalism and its widening inequality. The food critics engaged in competitive intellectual snobbery may also make a certain type of film critic squirm uncomfortably. At its best The Menu is deliciously unexpected and, although it runs a little too long in reaching “an ending that ties everything together conceptually”, the final course is a satisfying conclusion to a most unpredictable meal.
“I will avenge you, Father! I will save you, Mother! I will kill you, Fjölnir!”
Amleth, The Northman
The Northman’s thin plot takes the barest bones of Hamlet — a son sworn to avenge his father and kill his usurper uncle — but succeeds in transplanting this revenge tale into a compellingly foreboding world of Norse mythology. Robert Eggers seeks verisimilitude not only in bringing to life Viking reality but also their mythology and ritual practices. Atmospherically akin to The Green Knight, the pacing requires patience though Viking violence provides more action. The budget and scale may have increased dramatically from Eggers’ previous projects like The Lighthouse, but The Northman retains the same intensity through personal conflict. Alexander Skarsgård is a brooding presence, hulking and animalistic, humanised through his gentler interactions with the wonderful Anya Taylor-Joy as an understanding counterpoint. The characters are (or feel themselves to be) pawns to the whims of fate, and the cinematography reflects this with vast Icelandic vistas that dwarf individuals in the frame. It may be difficult to find joy in the world Eggers has created but the uncompromising experience is more gripping than most big budget modern cinema.
“This is London. Someone has died in every room in every building and on every street corner in the city.”
Edgar Wright’s London-based ghost story lavishly conjures Soho in the 1960s but serves as a deliberately stark warning against romanticising bygone eras, exposing coercive mistreatment of women beneath the glossy facade drenched in neon light. We see the entire film through the perspective of Eloise, a modern-day fashion student who experiences visions of the past through mirrors. These reflections provide the film’s best visual flourishes, achieved predominantly through practical sleight of hand and clever choreography (particularly a stunning dance sequence in an exquisite recreation of Café de Paris with repeated Texas Switches, a favourite of Wright). Eloise’s attempt to reinvent herself at university mirrors her visions of Sandie’s grasp at stardom in the 60s . This is communicated through sound design and colour as Eloise crosses to experience Sandie’s world, the coldly desaturated indifference of London suddenly giving way to the vibrant 1960s, with front audio bursting into Dolby Atmos surround. Anya Taylor-Joy is mesmerising, her singing voice adding to her talents. There is also something about former Doctor Who stars twisting their charm into something darker, Matt Smith’s manipulative Jack reminiscent of David Tennant’s Purple Man in Jessica Jones. The horror elements work more through atmosphere than jump scares (though there are some), coupled with Eloise’s concerns about her own mental state. Unfortunately, although the third act reveals are largley satisfying, Last Night in Soho becomes less than it could be when confined to the present day and more conventional horror visuals.
Disclosure: I know personally at least one person involved in the making of this film.
“You like to make fun of us, but we are more powerful than you think.”
The general downward trajectory of Shyamalan’s career has made him an easy target, yet two decades on he can still attract funding and acting talent. Split is, fittingly, a psychological thriller masquerading as horror. Its setup features the abduction of three teenage girls who are subjected to the stereotypical semi-exploitative treatment of horror victims. The tone swiftly shifts as the girls discover their captor exhibits multiple personalities which becomes the movie’s focus and provides for a fresher experience. Although the closing minutes of Split demonstrate it to be a stealth sequel to an early Shyamalan success, setting up a subsequent crossover, the film stands entirely on its own. McAvoy is entertaining as he enjoys chewing through Kevin’s various colourful personalities. Sadly, the remainder of the characters are one-note horror tropes, and too much of the film relies on convention rather than subverting it. Split is Shyamalan’s best work in a long time but cannot be described as a return to his early form.