The Menu: Not Your Typical Horror Movie


Annie Boguslavsky, Scoop Writer

Since the genre first appeared, horror movies have become a staple of modern media and human connection. Friends and families get together to watch them on Halloween, teenagers use them as a fun way to stay awake through their sleepovers and new couples use them as an excuse to get closer to each other. Even so, throughout the decades, cliches that used to impress and thrill viewers have become boring. 

While many still enjoy slashers and gory tropes, a large group of viewers have become disengaged, looking for something else to snag their attention. In this environment, The Menu is a breath of fresh air, something new for those who have lost interest.

The movie begins with a date. Tyler, a rich, food obsessed young man and Margot, a beautiful, intelligent young woman who is obviously much less into the idea. Together, they plan on visiting Hawthorne, an internationally famous restaurant offering an immersive menu, a four hour long dinner experience and a tour of the secluded island it is located on. Over a thousand dollars a night, the restaurant attracts only a select clientele that Margot stands out in. With her much lower social standing, it is clear that she feels out of place in the crowd of famous actors and business men. 

Everything begins as it should. The boat ride to the island is fun and serene and the island is beautiful, promising exclusivity. With no connection to the mainland and nothing else there, the meal can be enjoyed with no interruptions or distractions. The thought that the isolated nature of the island can prove to be anything malicious does not occur to anyone until much, much later.

Even from the start, there is a certain tension within the scenery and the characters. The disparity between Margot and the rest of the visitors sets up a certain atmosphere of discomfort, accentuated by the weird relationship that she develops with the Chef. The staff, while friendly, seem inhuman, the living quarters of the cooks are barren and unsettling and the secretive nature of the Chef’s headquarters is unnerving. But while all of this is well executed, what exactly makes the movie special? 

Many other horror movies have used similar techniques to build suspense throughout the narrative, but the difference is that there is always a climax. There is always a jump scare, a scene, or something else of the nature that ends the tension and harvests the fear building up within the viewer. The Menu is terrifying because while there are explicitly scary moments sprinkled throughout, there are no jumpscares, no traditional cliches, nothing to end the tension. Suspense continues to build throughout the entirety of the movie, with a pervading sense of impending doom. Viewers constantly feel on edge, because there is always a sense that some crucial piece of information is missing. In critical moments, nothing goes wrong the way that it feels like it is supposed to; there is never a big reveal of cannibalism, or murder. 

Because of the history of such tropes in settings like this, the viewer expects the head Chef to turn out to be a serial killer, or the customers to find out that they are eating the last people to visit, soon to be served themselves. Maybe the whole restaurant is a trap to lure people in, and in reality is a giant sacrificial cult. The expectation of such simple shock factors results in a constant feeling of surprise as the movie continues to defy stereotypes with even more horrifying twists. The nature of the characters also prevents a simple resolution from taking place. Many other villains can be written off as crazy or bloodthirsty, but The Menu forces viewers to observe and understand the progression of the antagonist from a more or less normal person, to whatever they become at the end. Instead of leaving with a sense of disgust and discomfort, viewers leave with the feeling that all of this actually has the potential to happen, maybe even to them. How far can you push someone before the thing they love drives them crazy? How far can they themselves be driven before they succumb to the same demons?

While gorey movies do accomplish their goal of scaring their audience, The Menu utilizes a different and much more effective approach to horror. With blood, there is always the option to look away, but psychological horror leaves a potent and introspective aftertaste that cannot be so easily avoided.