"I love flawed characters and I love trying to understand them!" Director Mark Mylod talks about horror comedy The Menu - SciFiNow

“I love flawed characters and I love trying to understand them!” Director Mark Mylod talks about horror comedy The Menu

We speak to director Mark Mylod about Succession and creating the perfect blend of horror, comedy and satire in his new movie The Menu.

the menu

“I’ve never had a really bad experience. I’ve never been really comfortable in them. I just always feel really awkward…” we’re asking director Mark Mylod if he’s ever had a bad experience in a restaurant, which you might think is an odd question for a movie brand like SciFiNow to ask, but not when you find out about his new movie, The Menu.

Taking place on a remote, undisclosed island, The Menu follows a group of elitists who are visiting the prestigious restaurant Hawthorn. However, when they get there they find the restaurant’s chef/island cult leader, Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), has become disillusioned by his craft and is out for bloody revenge on the people he’s believed have wronged him. 

Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) is out for bloody revenge…

A food-based comedy horror isn’t something you come across every day, which is exactly the reason for Mylod being attracted to the script when he first saw it: “As soon as I read it, I thought,’ I’m the right person for this’ even though it scared the life out of me,” he laughs. “It was a world that at that stage I really knew very little about. But there was something about this very specific tone, this triangle of satire, comedy and horror/thriller genre was quite small a target to hit but I could just feel it. It was irresistible, I had to jump aboard. One of the fundamental attractions of the script was that it was such a great ride, and a lovely way to frame issues that I’m interested in exploring.”

Though the restaurant industry was a new area for him to tackle, exploring the lives of the privileged certainly wasn’t, with his previous directing credits including the wealthy familial drama, Succession. So does he get pleasure in watching rich and powerful people suffering? “It is a recurring theme of mine isn’t it!” he laughs. “I suppose it’s a bit of an easy one, the rich thing, if you just go straight for that, it’s a bit of low hanging fruit.

“But certainly it’s not my approach either in Succession, which is about horrible, rich people or The Menu which has some horrible rich people in it. My approach is a little more, I like to think, humane. I love flawed characters and I love trying to understand them, to find the context of their behaviour and where possible to peel that back and find that innocence, find that vulnerability to have empathy for them.” 

Mark Mylod loves flawed characters and peeling back their layers to find something more…

The Menu certainly has a plethora of interesting characters. From big foodie Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) who has brought along his date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), to a fading movie star (John Leguizamo), to Slowik himself, The Menu’s characters all have secrets that are ultimately revealed to as the movie continues. 

“With [Nicholas Hoult] he builds a foundation for the character which may never outwardly manifest itself but it’s there for him. He saw himself as a loner, somebody that wanted to fit in and basically latched on to this foodie culture as a way to belong. 

“That sense of that need to belong and that need for self-worth is a recurring theme for a lot of the characters in the film. 

“When we grounded the character with an element of pathos, somewhat paradoxically that allows the comedy to come out. It was actually the same with Ralph’s [Fiennes] character. When we actually rooted the character as this artist in pain who was consumed with self loathing over the choices he’s made, from that you can actually find your way to the comedy and so finding that kind of symbiotic relationship between the pain of these characters and the comedy was a lovely exercise for everybody.”

Nicholas Hoult saw his character as a loner who has latched on to the foodie culture as a way to belong.

Indeed, though The Menu is about bloody revenge, it is also steeped in comedy (another area Mylod has had a lot of experience in, having directed Shameless) and keeping the balance between horror, comedy and satire was something he knew he could manage… “As soon as I read the script, I don’t know if it sounds arrogant, but I could just feel it as soon as I read it,” he laughs. “I just felt the force or something!”

Being a restaurant for foodies means Hawthorn’s kitchen is exposed to the dining area, and the movie is primarily set in this one room – a challenge that Mylod fully utilised to bring out the movie’s comedy. “With so much of it being set in the one room, it created this brilliant opportunity to trap these characters with so much conflict going on. There’s so much energy and potential for that dark comedy. It was really exciting, it’s all the things that I love, having all these disparate characters pinging around each other. But there’s a tremendous energy to that which is somewhat paradoxical because it’s in that one space and they’re sat down for an awful lot of the time. 

“A huge inspiration to me was rewatching Parasite – the way the film uses the architecture of that house and kind of weaponizes it to create this tension and comedy. That informed a lot of my design choices and working with Ethan Tobman, the production designer, to make sure that the connection between the dining room and the kitchen, the connection to nature and the ocean outside the window, all those spaces could be dynamic but still trap those characters within it.”

Mylod utilised the fact that The Menu is primarily set in one space and all the characters are trapped together.

The other integral element to get right for The Menu was, of course, the food, and Mylod had the perfect person to help him on that front… “I sent the script to Dominique Crenn the brilliant three Michelin star chef originally from France and now based in San Francisco,” he nods. “She loved the script and she came aboard to work with us to design and enhance our menu.

“She and her business partner, along with a brilliant local chef called John Benhase, ran a boot camp basically with all our cooks in the kitchen, all of whom had worked in the catering industry. She basically put everybody through their paces so that whatever anybody was doing in the kitchen at any one time was exactly the correct thing for the preparation of the next course in the film.”

So with all the research that went into creating The Menu’s… er…. menu and giving it an authentic restaurant feel, how do people in the actual industry feel about the movie? “The feedback from both world-renowned chefs and from busboys and people at all levels of the catering industry has been my dream really. People writing and saying ‘I feel seen for the first time’. 

“In my deep dive and research into the project (though I still am by no means a foodie), I did come away with a huge respect for people who practice that art and work in that industry. It’s relentless. The pressure to just keep evolving… you can’t even stand still. Not only do you have to hit perfection every night, but you also have to keep evolving. That level of pressure is almost a kind of horror movie in itself to me!”

The Menu is out now on Disney+.