Interview: The Menu Director Mark Mylod On Creating His Delightfully Devilish Dish
The Menu is a movie that seems to defy explanation. Every minute that whizzes by, every delectable dish served up, a new genre is added to the smorgasbord. When I spoke to director Mark Mylod about the movie, I settled on describing it as part-horror, part-comedy, part-thriller, but even that did not seem sufficient, so I asked Mylod to help define it.
"All the above," he laughs. "I read the script [and] that slightly indefinable sense was what was so lovely about it. In my industry we'll often say it's 'that movie' meets 'that movie', and I couldn't really do that with The Menu, and that was immediately intriguing. It felt so fresh, and with a very specific tone with that mash-up between satire and dark comedy, and the genre element of thriller-horror, that just felt so cohesive to me instantly. I felt that I knew how to get there with the tone of the performances, so that and the fact that it was just such a great cinematic ride was just irresistible. It really was."
Mylod is no stranger to playing with conventions of genre and playing with a mixture of tones. He's spent the last three years working on Succession, and while that lacks the horror twist, it feels like a cousin of The Menu. Mylod tells me a lot of what he channelled into Succession flowed into The Menu. "Satire through authenticity," Mylod tells me when I ask what the two projects share the most. "I brought across the naturalism of the performances. That was important to me because there's so many absurdist elements to The Menu, in terms of the militaristic choreography of the staff, for instance, or the journey that Chef is taking them on. It felt for that to feel emotionally engaging, there had to be a level of reality and a naturalism to the characters.
"Also, it's very important that the diners felt like three-dimensional characters. They could, if we went another way, be more two-dimensional, more caricature-ish. We were pains to give everybody an arc and actually a big influence on that was [Luis] Buñuel's film, The Exterminating Angel, where all the guests that night go on this journey to a sense of culpability, a sense of guilt, in this case, revealed slowly through Chef's actions through the night, which I thought was a lovely grounding arc for all the characters to go through that evening."
While Mylod has been busy with Succession (as well as Game of Thrones and Shameless), it has been over a decade since he last made a feature film. Given that The Menu revolves around Chef Slowik, a man who has mastered his craft but in doing so has lost his passion. Some might think that's a strange choice for his return, and Mylod admits he does see similarities between himself and his head chef. "Did I relate to it on that level? I think it's undeniable that both Ralph [Fiennes, who plays Slowik] and I were connected to Chef Slowik by that sense of living with bad choices. In the case of Chef Slowik, he’s consumed with self loathing, I've made some bad choices in my life. Of course, who hasn't?
"I don't think, at least consciously, I'm going to reinvent myself and I've lost my passion now. The reason it's been so long since I last made a feature was because I decided about ten years ago to try to be bolder with my choices, and to wait, particularly in the case of features, until there was something seriously meaty that I knew I could be really passionate and give my life to, and I waited a long time for that. Then The Menu landed on my inbox and so I jumped in."
Most fascinating to me about The Menu was the setting itself – the vast majority of the movie takes place in a single room – a tremendous challenge for a director and his cast. Mylod, however, relished the task at hand. "In the dramatic sense, it's fantastic," he says. "When you get characters who have conflict in a confined space, then sparks fly, so that's wonderful for me. And I love working with ensembles of actors. In terms of making sure it's a cinematic and not a theatrical experience I was inspired by Bong-Ho's Parasite, where he weaponized the architecture of that house to create both claustrophobia, and drama, and comedy.
It's obviously a masterwork, and we employed all sorts of devices to actually make sure in terms of the staging for, as you say, so much of the film was within the restaurant space itself, to ensure that it was cinematic and dynamic. Hence the open plan kitchen, so that the choreography of the militia of the cooks upstage was always there, perhaps slightly defocus but it was always there as lurking, threatening presence to the diners. And outside the back wall is the ocean, and nature, and freedom, which gradually as the sun goes down, is receding as a possibility. Using those elements, and of course, the beautiful production design, this jewel box created by Ethan Tobman, our production designer, I think we really created very cinematic environments."
The Menu is in cinemas from 18 November.
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