This image was taken from the official trailer for “The Menu,” distributed by Searchlight Pictures.

Now that spooky season is officially over, I thought I’d put my horror movie intake on hold and move on to holiday films. Much as I tried, I couldn’t forget about the trailer I’d been seeing for months in theaters. The trailer for “The Menu” intrigued me — Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes, “Schindler’s List”) commanded my attention every time he came on screen, even if it was only for a couple of minutes. I laughed and flinched every time — a sign that “The Menu” would be a refreshing horror-comedy.

“The Menu” follows Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy, “The Queen’s Gambit”) to Hawthorne, a high-end restaurant on an island where the establishment sources all of its ingredients. She travels with her date for the day, Tyler (Nicholas Hoult, “Skins”), and other upper-class elites including a movie star (John Leguizamo, “Ice Age”), a food critic (Judith Light, “Who’s the Boss?”), a high-in-the-ranks tech professional (Rob Yang, “Succession”) and other snobbish guests who clearly have over $1200 to spend on the extravagant dining experience. Staff member Elsa (Hong Chau, “Downsizing”) guides the guests from the yacht to the restaurant, touring them through the island’s resources. She seems to know details about everyone on the island except Margot, who was a late addition after Tyler’s first choice guest — his ex-girlfriend — broke up with him. 

Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy are the stars of “The Menu,” a complementary pairing that worked to enhance each of their performances. Chef Julian is introduced as a scary, sergeant-like chef — his army of employees moves by marching as a troop, responding back to his demands with “Yes, Chef.” Upon first glance, he’s the villain. But as the film progresses, it becomes clear that it’s not him we should truly hate. It’s everyone else. 

“The Menu” is not subtle in its themes. There are the givers (the service workers) and the takers (the upper-class snobs). Every guest lacks morality. The tech professionals expect special treatment because they work for the man who invests in Hawthorne. The food critic thinks she’s special because her words have the power to shut down any restaurant. Each guest is equally hateable. When Chef announces they all are going to die tonight, many guests ask how much money it will take to change his mind. It’s obvious what the film is saying — you can keep feeding the power-hungry, but they will never be satisfied. 

When a film is so obvious in its “eat the rich” message, it usually lacks complexity. “The Menu” is the opposite. Chef Julian serves pretentious dish after pretentious dish, one a plate of dipping sauces without bread to dip. It is absurd, which is what makes it so fun. Any moviegoer will understand what “The Menu” is really about, and that’s a clever way to critique class division and elitism in both content and style. There’s no one incapable of joining in on the fun. 

“The Menu” is more comedy than horror, but there are twists and turns that will disturb viewers along the way. I’m not sure if I’ve seen another movie that made me feel almost no remorse for the supposed “victims,” but that was all part of the fun. Their resigned acknowledgment of the fact that they are likely not going to make it through the night only adds to the humor throughout. “The Menu” is simple in its complexity, using the food service industry to critique class division in a blatant, non-pretentious way that everyone can understand and enjoy.

Daily Arts Writer Laura Millar can be reached at lamillar@umich.edu.