I remember hearing a while back that a Tetris film was being made. I had visions of a The Emoji Movie thing, with the famed Tetris blocks being anthropomorphised and given ‘personalities’… really crap personalities. Voiced by second-rate celebrities and the film being a kid’s thing with loads of merchandise to sell that nobody wants.
What we got was something very, very different… thankfully.
I was already well-versed in the history of how Tetris came to be, I did a very abridged version for one of my books. The truth is that, the story behind Tetris is, quite honestly, really bloody fascinating and a far better basis for a film than a The Emoji Movie idea.
Tetris (the movie) tells the story of the continual battle to secure the rights to publish Tetris (the game). Yup, it does sound rather bland but trust me, the story of how Tetris (the game) was published is far from bland. We follow Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton), a Dutch-born, raised in America and living in Japan, game designer and founder of Bullet-Proof Software, as he goes to hell and back to find the creator of Tetris and try to get a contract signed so that he can get exclusive publishing rights to the game. Set in 1988 and mainly in the Soviet Union. If you know anything about recent history and the whole dissolution of the Soviet Union, then you’ll know just how ‘cut off’ from the rest of the world that country was back then.
Along the way, Henk has to deal with KGB agents, blackmailing billionaire tycoons and more. Multiple people all want in on this Tetris game and are willing to do almost anything to stop Henk Rogers from signing on the dotted line.
Tetris (the movie) is really well presented and intercut with 8-bit animations (though if I can be nit-picky for a second, they do feel more 16-bit) and audio that introduces characters and scenes. Robert Stein (Toby Jones) is one of the main obstacles that Rogers needs to get around. For those not in the know, Stein was the man who first ‘discovered’ Tetris while in Eastern Europe and struck up a deal with the game’s creator, Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov). But that deal was not quite what it seemed and when media magnate, Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) gets involved, things get very messy. That’s before we get into the Soviet Union government and everything else.
In several ways, Tetris is the video game movie equivalent of Rocky IV. You’ve got your Cold War backdrop, USA vs Russia and all that. Just swap boxing for gaming and boxing gloves for a NES pad. There are a few clichés, some changes from the real story to make things more dramatic and such. But overall, Tetris is a very entertaining film. Most of the ‘action’ revolves around meetings, boardrooms, pieces of paper and a lot of business negotiations. There’s a touch of melodrama with Henk Rogers’ family life, an over-the-top car chase (that didn’t happen in the real story) in the last third of the film and several other exaggerations.
Still, this is a film that does tell the rather interesting story of how Tetris (the game) became a worldwide phenomenon and all from such humble beginnings. Some great performances throughout, an awesome ’80s soundtrack and a snappy script make this 2-hour film fly by. This is certainly a far better film than the original idea for a Tetris film would’ve been.
I’d love to see more films and TV shows show the real stories behind how games were made. So much better than the kiddie films we keep getting based on video games. It’s a damn shame that the Masters of Doom TV show didn’t work out as that could’ve been amazing. If another one of these true stories of video games is ever made, may I suggest the making of Superman 64? Trust me, it’s a fantastic tale.
I was feeling a little bored the other day and was looking for something to watch. Preferably something a bit light-hearted and amusing. There I was, just randomly scrolling through Disney+ and saw the thumbnail for The Menu. Now, before I do get into this, The Menu is definitely a film that you are better off going into as blind as possible. I had managed to avoid any and everything about this film, I hadn’t even seen a trailer. I’d even suggest not reading reviews, especially spoilery ones.
This review that I’m going to do here will be crammed with spoilers. However, I’m not getting into that just yet as I want to give you a rough idea of what the film is about before I really get into it. So, this is safe to read here and I will be offering a pre-warning before I do get to the spoilers. Look, I’d even suggest that you don’t click on the trailer that I am linking to right now.
Anyway, back to my build-up. I was just looking through Disney+ and saw the thumbnail for this film. I used to be a chef for over 25 years. I’m glad that I left the trade behind me as it was slowly killing me, but I still find myself drawn to shows and movies about it. So, feeling bored, I thought I’d watch a film about cooking and remind myself of the job that I learned to hate. As I said, I had no idea what the film was about and I didn’t even read the little synopsis that you get on Disney+ before pressing play, I just pressed play.
My first assumption of The Menu was that it was perhaps going to be a fictionalised drama of a Gordon Ramsay-type chef. World-famous, top-class food and a tale of a young boy growing to become a major player in the food business. In some ways, The Menu kind of is about that but it is also about something completely different. It’s okay, still no spoilers yet. I’m just going to do a brief synopsis of the flick before I do really delve into this (literally) course by course.
So, The Menu tells the story of Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) an absolute master of his craft and chef known for creating some of the world’s greatest food and pushing the whole dining experience. He doesn’t just make food, he crafts theatre. Slowik has a very exclusive, very expensive restaurant called Hawthorn. The restaurant is on its very own private island and the only way to get to the restaurant is by boat and by very select invitation. Hawthorn is an exclusive restaurant for the rich and famous that only 1% of the 1% get to experience. After creating his latest menu, Chef Slowik invites a very select clientele to try his new creations. And that’s the basic, non-spoilery plot.
After I had finished watching The Menu, I was pretty much undecided. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to bother reviewing it. I didn’t dislike the film but I didn’t really enjoy it either. I was just very unsure. The film surprised me in a great many ways, but I could not honestly say that I outright liked it. Then, I just sat on my opinion for a few days and realised that the film just would not get out of my head as I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It must’ve had some kind of an impression on me, I just wasn’t sure what that impression was. I needed to re-watch it and form a better opinion. So I did. After the second watch and knowing the plot, I found myself spotting things that I had missed the first time around. After the credits rolled for the second time, I really appreciated what the film was, what it did and how well made it was. I really, really liked The Menu on subsequent viewings. It was far and away from what I was expecting and it really did hit me with some big surprises. That’s my spoiler-free review.
And now, I do need to get into the SPOILER part of my review. From this point on, I will be giving away massive plot points and story details. If you have not yet seen the film and do want to be surprised, stop reading now. SPOILERS ahead as my lengthy course-by-course look at The Menu begins… [CLAP] now.
The film opens up with us being introduced to Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and his date, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy). Tyler is a dedicated foodie who has been lucky enough to get an invite from Chef Slowik to try out his new menu. He’s the kind of person who uses the word ‘mouth-feel’ as a descriptive. A bit of a prick, but he seems to know his stuff when it comes to gourmet food. The other invitees are famed food critic Lillian (Janet McTeer) and her editor Ted (Paul Adelstein). Wealthy regulars to the restaurant, Richard (Reed Birney) and his wife Anne (Judith Light). Second-rate and struggling movie actor George (John Leguizamo) and his PA Felicity (Aimee Carrero). Then there is the trio of business partners Soren (Arturo Castro), Dave (Mark St. Cyr) and Bryce (Rob Yang).
When arriving at the island, the rather curt and direct maître d’hôtel, Elsa (Hong Chau) makes note that Margot was not originally invited. Tyler had someone else as his +1 but that didn’t work out, so he invited Margot instead. Following a short tour of the island, Elsa leads the guests to Hawthorn where they are sat at their designated tables and served the first course. Hawthorn has an open-plan kitchen and the guests are invited to watch the chefs work, but they are told to not take pictures of the food. This is when Tyler decides to talk to the sous-chef and throw a few ‘chefy words’ around to show off that the knows what he is talking about.
The first course impresses everyone, everyone except Margot. She struggles to see what all the fuss is about. Tiny portions of poncy ingredients, severed to look like a piece of art on a plate and not food. This is where you get to know the other characters a little as snippets of their stories and personalities are drip feed to you. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Elsa tells Chef Slowik that Margot is not an original invitee.
Chef Slowik introduces himself to his guests before this course is served. The pretension is laid on thick as he tells his guest not to eat, but to taste, savour and relish the food. Tyler embarrasses himself a tad by talking as Slowik is describing his food and feels bad about it too. But, he sneaks a few naughty photos of the dish anyway, showing disrespect to the rules.
Raw diver scallop, pickled local seaweeds and algae.
BREADLESS BREAD PLATE
After giving a speech on bread and its history, Slowik introduces the next course, a breadless bread plate. Several flavoured ‘dips’ that you may have otherwise eaten with bread… but here without bread. Trust me, the pomp and pretentiousness have only just begun. The trio of business partners, Soren, Dave and Bryce ask Elsa for some bread to enjoy with their emulsion drips on the plate. Only to be met with a direct and plain ‘no’. The trio play the ‘do you know who we are’ card and say that they work with (for) a Mr Verrick, a massive business magnate with a lot of sway. Still, Elsa tells them ‘no’. It’s about here when something just feels ‘off’ about this film.
Over at Tyler and Margot’s table, she’s still not ‘getting’ the food and has not eaten a thing. Tyler makes a fool of himself (again) by reaching over to grab Margot’s plate, knocking off and smashing a wine glass on the floor. Chef Slowik comes over and questions Margot on why she has not yet tried any of his food. She says that there is no ‘food’ to try. She seems the be the only one who sees through all the bullshit of the menu. This annoys Tyler and he claims that Margot is making him look like a fool (when he’s actually doing a perfectly good job of that himself). Slowik leaves the couple to argue as he turns his attention to an old woman, sitting alone drinking wine in the corner of the restaurant.
BREADLESS BREAD PLATE:
No bread, savoury accompaniments.
At Richard and his wife Anne’s table, Anne thinks that she recognises Margot from somewhere, but can’t quite place her. Two-bit and washed-up actor George and his PA Felicity are having a bit of a disagreement over the fact that Felicity wants to move on to bigger and better things. She doesn’t want to be stuck as a PA for an ageing actor who can’t find any decent roles, doesn’t care anymore and she feels that her career isn’t going anywhere.
This course is a deconstructed high-end taco made with very special tortillas. As Chef Slowik explains, the tortillas have been branded using a laser, to give each one a unique print on them, specific to each guest. Slowik says the reason this one is called ‘Memory’ is because he used to have tacos on Tuesday, (Taco Tuesday). This is when he tells his guests that the old woman drinking wine on her own is his mother. Slowik then goes on the tell a story from his past about his abusive father and how he stabbed him in the thigh. Perhaps a rather strange anecdote to bring up during a $1,200+ per-head exclusive, multi-course dinner, but hey-ho. Slowik’s mother continues the get drunk on wine, on her own. Some of the guests question the point of Chef Slowik’s abusive father story, and it is quickly brushed off as ‘theatrics’ and part of the dining experience.
The meal is served and the guests notice the individually, laser-printed images on their tortillas. Food critic Lillian has pictures of several restaurants on hers, restaurants that she helped close down via her reviews. Married, elderly couple and regulars to the restaurant, Richard and Anne have various pictures of their life. Including one of Richard with another woman. Tyler has pictures of him taking pictures of the food that were taken just a few minutes earlier. Proof that he has broken one of Chef Slowik’s cardinal rules… and that these chefs work really damn fast. This, to coin a phrase, is where the plot thickens, as there seems to be an ulterior motive for these guests being invited. This is about much more than just tasting a new menu.
If you need further suggestion that something sinister is going on. George has a poster for one of his big movie flops (Calling Doctor Sunshine) on his tortillas, a swift reminder that his a bit of a flake and phoney. Though George laughs it off as a personal joke between friends, saying that he and Slowik are buddies. The trio of business guys tortillas? Well, they have documents of proof that they have been embezzling money for Mr Verrick the business magnate. Calling Elsa over the explain what the tortillas are, she does just that in her own unique way. The trio (suspecting that some kind of blackmail is going on) claim that they will have the place closed down in the morning, flexing their ‘do you know who we are’ card once more. This does not phase Elsa one bit. The trio realise that they are safe though because if Chef Slowik tries to turn them in for embezzlement, he would be turning Mr Verrick in and well, Mr Verrick is the one who actually owns the island and the restaurant that Slowik runs. Ergo, if Mr Verrick goes down, so does Slowik.
Margot goes to the toilet, still not having eaten anything, where she is confronted by Slowik. Noting that he knows that she has not yet eaten anything, Slowik questions why. He also reveals that he knows that Margot was not an original invitee and questions just who she is and tells her that she shouldn’t be here.
House-smoked Bresse chicken thigh al pastor, tortillas made with heirloom masa, green salsa cubes.
Chef Slowik introduces his sous-chef, Jeremy Louden (Adam Aalderks) as the creator of this next course. Bringing him out to the restaurant in full view of all the guests. Slowik goes on the tell his guests that Jeremy is a good chef… just not great and that he will never be as great as Slowik is. After a bit of, what seems like ‘berating with love’ from Slowik, Jeremy pulls out a gun, places it in his mouth and blows the back of his head out. Yup, a chef just committed suicide in full view of these very exclusive guests. Who are (mostly and rightfully) shocked. If the previous course did not clue you in that something strange was going on, then this course most definitely does.
After the initial shock of seeing someone blow the back of their head out, Chef Slowik tells them that it is part of the ‘show’ and the guest begin to question if it is just more ‘theatrics’. The guests continue with their meal, except for Margot. Richard tells Anne that he has had enough and that they are leaving. Only, the staff won’t allow that and cut one of his fingers off… this is no ‘theatrics’ and this film about a menu is definitely taking a very bizarre and bloody twist. The realisation that this is real begins to set in and the other guests panic. Chef Slowik and his crew are quite insane.
Margot decides to go and confront Slowik in his kitchen. He reveals that everyone is going to die tonight. Everyone including himself and his crew. He also says that he needs to know what side Margot is on, the pompous guests or the (let’s be honest) psychotic chefs. She still has to die, it just depends on which side she chooses to die on and gives her just 15 minutes to decide who she will side with.
Pressure-cooked vegetables, roasted fillet, potato confit, beef jus, bone marrow. R.I.P. Jeremy Louden.
George talks to the embezzling trio and suggests that they storm the kitchen and overpower Chef Slowik and his staff. Even though they are vastly outnumbered. Hey, it worked in one of his films. A little slice of evidence that perhaps George is not exactly in touch with the real world. George also reveals that he and Slowik aren’t friends at all, just bullshit from a desperate actor seeking attention and trying to stay relevant. While serving the palate cleanser of tea, Slowik asks his guests if they have any questions. The obvious one being ‘what the fuck is going on?’. Tyler asks if he can taste bergamot in the tea, seemingly oblivious to the violence and death that is going on around him and another excuse for him to show off his extensive food knowledge.
Finally, someone asks ‘what the fuck is going on?’ and Slowik reveals his reasons for inviting the guests and why they all have to die. Food critic Lillian has to die because she ruined multiple livelihoods with her negative reviews that closed so many restaurants and her editor Ted, allowed it to happen. Regulars Richard and his wife Anne have to die because, even though they have been to the restaurant multiple times and have eaten Chef Slowik’s food, they have no idea what they’ve eaten and can not name a single dish that Slowik has ever cooked for them. They don’t care about the food, just the prestige of being invited to eat and such an exclusive restaurant. A massive insult to Slowik and his staff.
Slowik even admits that he is part of the problem for allowing the restaurant to be used by such shallow people as a means to further their own social status. That is when one of the business trio says that it is not his restaurant. The truth is that their boss, Mr Verrick owns the island and restaurant. Slowik admits that Mr Verrick ‘owns’ him, but only until very recently. Slowik reveals that he and his team have kidnapped Mr Verrick and then drowns him in the water around the island in full view of his guests.
Time is up for Margot and Slowik asks to see her in his office so she can decide whose side she dies on. Slowik sees right through Margot and knows that she is not who she claims to be. He has noticed that she has been looking at Richard and that she knows who he is. Margot tells Slowik that she is actually an escort called Erin and that she has ‘serviced’ Richard in the past. Back in the restaurant, Slowik takes everyone outside.
Wild bergamot and clover tea.
Now outside, Chef Slowik introduces another of his sous-chefs, Katherine (Christina Brucato) the creator of this course. Katherine reveals that Slowik has sexually harassed her multiple times in the past. He allows Katherine to get some payback and she stabs him in the thigh. Slowik then gives the men the chance to escape by giving them a 45-second head start before his staff comes after them. Katherine invites the women back inside to eat the next dish, while the men do their best to escape. Taking this as an opportunity to try and soften up one of the staff, the women praise Katherine for her food and she cries. Katherine soon snaps back into chef mode and tells the women that killing everyone was actually her idea as the finale for the menu. Margot tells everyone that she really is Erin.
Meanwhile, all of the men make an attempt to escape… except for Tyler. He hangs around the outside of the restaurant until he is ‘caught’ and brought back. None of them do manage to escape and all are eventually rounded up and marched back to Hawthorn, Chef Slowik and their inevitable deaths. Felicity tells George that she has been stealing money from him, already making this struggling to find work as an actor even worse. George already knew that she was stealing money from him and she knew that he knew too.
As Lillian’s editor, Ted is the last of the men to be caught, he’s given a bonus dish to ‘enjoy’.
Egg, crème fraîche, and maple (a special bite for the last guest to be caught).
Chef Slowik can’t continue with his carefully planned menu until he sorts out a bit of an issue. He decides to test just how much Tyler knows about food and allows him to cook in his kitchen. Complete carte blanche to create whatever he wants. But first, Slowik wants to know why he invited Erin when she was not part of the original plan. It turns out that Tyler was made fully aware of Slowik’s plan to kill everyone because Slowik told him and swore him to secrecy. Tyler was still happy to come and eat the world’s greatest food, knowing that he would be killed at the end of the night. That is how much of a dedicated foodie he is, he was willing to die as long as he got to eat Chef Slowik’s food.
Originally, Tyler was going to bring his girlfriend but they broke up before the big night and aware that Slowik does not offer single-seatings, he hired Mergot/Erin’s escort services knowing that she would die. Obviously, Erin does not take that bit of information well and tries to beat the shit out of Tyler, but is restrained by Slowik’s staff. This is when Chef Slowik invites Tyler to prove his foodie chops by letting him cook in his kitchen. Tyler makes a complete mess of it as Slowik embarrasses Tyler in front of his staff and guests and shows that the so-called foodie actually knows very little about food. Tyler is a complete fake and has signed Margot/Erin’s death warrant too. Not a nice fella at all.
After trying the inedible food, Slowik leans over and whispers into Tyler’s ear. Tyler leaves the kitchen and heads to the back of house, removing his tie as he goes. Chef Slowik, during a break in the perfect plan of his menu, asks to talk to Erin in the back of house. Slowik tells Erin that he needs a barrel for his finale, that it needs to be collected and that Elsa forgot to get it. So, he asks Erin to get the barrel from the smokehouse, outside of the restaurant and elsewhere on the island. Slowik showing that he trusts and thinks of Erin as one of his own and not one of the pompous, shallow guests. As Erin leaves to get the barrel, she discovers Tyler’s body after he has hung himself with his own tie.
In the restaurant, before Chef Slowik can introduce the next course, he is interrupted by George. George wants to know why he has to die. Slowik tells George that he saw his movie, Calling Doctor Sunshine and that he didn’t like it. Not only that but he saw the film on his only day off in several months and how it ruined his day. Slowik says that George has to die because he is an artist who has lost his drive and passion for what he does, he’s a washed-up actor who does not care about the quality of the film he makes as long as he gets paid.
While getting the barrel, Erin explores outside of the restaurant and she finds Chef Slowik’s living quarters. Before she can snoop around, Elsa appears and attacks her, out of jealousy of Slowik favouring Erin and making her one of them. In the fight, Erin accidentally stabs Elsa in the neck and kills her. While looking around Slowik’s abode, Erin finds photos of his illustrious career, going back years. One photo shows a teenage Slowik working in a low-rent burger joint flipping burgers. It’s also the only photo where Slowik is smiling. Erin also finds a short-wave radio and calls for help. After a while, Erin returns to the restaurant with the barrel.
Chef Slowik further explains why he is doing all of this. Why everyone, including himself, has to die. He says that he is a monster, a whore and that what he is doing is an act of purification. everyone at the restaurant (except for Erin) is guilty of something and they need to pay for their sins. Just then, a coastguard boat arrives and Slowik knows that Erin has betrayed his trust and called in help via his radio. The restaurant and guests are quickly cleaned up so as to not arouse the suspicion of the coastguard and make out that everything is fine. The coastguard recognises George as he is a fan of his films and asks for an autograph. George takes this opportunity to write ‘help us’ to clue the coastguard in that something is very wrong. Believing that they are now safe, that is when it is revealed that the coastguard is actually one of Chef Slowik’s line chefs. Slowik tells Erin that she can’t be trusted and is one of ‘them’ and will die as one of ‘them’, a taker.
Before the final course can be served, Erin tells Slowik that she doesn’t like his food. She says that he has taken the joy out of eating and that his food tastes like it was made without love. She says that Chef Slowik has failed to serve worthy food and that even worse, she is still hungry. She asks for a cheeseburger, nothing fancy or pretentious, no ‘deconstructed avant-bullshit’. Just a cheeseburger. Chef Slowik grants her wish and makes her the best cheeseburger that she will ever eat, for just $9.95. A bit of a step down from the $1,200+ per head that he is used to charging for his food. As he cooks the burger, Slowik smiles, he’s enjoying cooking for the first time in years. He’s taken back to when he was a teenager flipping burgers at a burger joint, one of the last times he was truly happy.
Very satisfied with his food, he personally serves it to Erin. She takes a bite and enjoys his food for the first time. Erin then says that she can’t eat the whole thing right now and asks for it ‘to go’. Chef Slowik boxes up her food and allows her to leave. Her reward for reminding Slowik that he once loved making food, even a simple cheeseburger. Everyone else though? They’re still going to die.
SUPPLEMENTAL COURSE: A CHEESEBURGER:
Just a well-made cheeseburger.
The final course. A callback to simple childhood days, the s’more. Slowik tells his guests that they represent the ruin of his art, his passion for cooking and his life in some way. Graham crackers are spread around the restaurant, along with several dozen litres of flammable alcohol. The guests are adorned with shawls made of marshmallows and chocolate hats. The s’more, ‘the most offensive assault on the human palate ever contrived’ Chef Slowi says. To complete his version of the s’more, Slowik grabs a red hot coal from his chargrill, walks into the middle of the restaurant and drops it onto all that flammable alcohol. Everyone in the restaurant burns to death (including Slowik’s very drunk mother). The chefs in the kitchen turn the gas on and combined with the barrel that Slowik asked Erin to get for him, the whole place explodes killing everyone.
Marshmallow, chocolate, graham cracker, customers, staff, restaurant.
Erin has found a boat and makes her escape. She stops and watches the restaurant burn while enjoying her cheeseburger and wiping her mouth with a copy of Chef Slowik’s menu. End credits.
My Take On This
Okay then, so the first thing I need to address with this film is that (in case you’ve not yet worked it out) it is not a fictionalised drama of a Gordon Ramsay-type chef as I thought I might be. This is an out-and-out horror film. Not only that it’s a horror film about food that manages to side-step the most overused food-horror film trope of serving dead bodies to customers. There’s no cheeky Sweeny Todd-inspired angle here. The food is all ‘proper’ food that one would most probably find at an exclusive, top-notch and very expensive restaurant (and a cheeseburger). I honestly have to give The Menu credit for doing something very different with a tired, old format.
As I said, this isn’t a fictionalised drama of a Gordon Ramsay-type chef. It is more of a ‘imagine if Jim Jones was a top, world-famous chef’ film. Chef Slowik is a straight-up cult leader hellbent on killing… well everyone and even his own brigade of chefs and waiting staff are in on it. The Hawthorn restaurant and the island that it is on is basically Jonestown. Now, while this is most definitely a horror film, it’s a horror film with a great sense of humour. It is very, very black humour but still humour nonetheless. This was something that I overlooked when I watched The Menu for the first time.
Watching this film for the second time had me noticing things I didn’t the first time. There are some great little details, such as in the opening. Tyler berates Margot for smoking and tells her that it ruins tastebuds and that she won’t be able to taste the food. Then later in the film, we see the food critic, Lillian smoking. A suggestion that her tastebuds are screwed, that all those bad reviews she wrote and closed restaurants with were not because the food was bad, but because she can’t taste anything properly. There are allusions to the seven deadly sins and more.
In our world, what Chef Slowik does is bat-shit insane. In the world of the film though, it makes a lot of sense and yeah, his guests did deserve to die. They are pompous pricks who have, in some way, destroyed Slowik’s life and career. Or they have contributed to the downfall of the people connected to them.
There’s a sub-genre of horror film that has become popular in recent years, elevated horror. For those not in the know, elevated horror are films that are less about dumb teenagers being killed by someone in a mask and wielding a large knife. They are horror films that don’t rely on cheap jump scares or throw buckets of blood at the screen. An elevated horror film is one that focuses on style, character psychology and other deeper or artistic themes. Basically, they are seen as horror films for those with an IQ. A bit on the pretentious side.
Now, TheMenu is most definitely an elevated horror flick. However, it’s also aware of what it is and has fun with it. You know how the original Scream exposed the slasher film genre and pointed a satirical finger at it? Well, The Menu does the same for the elevated horror genre but in a very different way. This is a film that highlights pomp and pretention, to then destroy it. All of the guests who die in the film have that ‘holier than thou’ attitude. They think they are above ‘normal’ people and use Chef Slowik, his food and his restaurant to further their own egos and social status. They are shallow, pretentious and selfish. ‘Takers’ as Slowik calls them. All of them are like this… except Margot/Erin.
That’s why she survived. She’s not ‘one of them’ and sees through all the pomp and ceremony. She didn’t eat the food because it wasn’t ‘food’. The cheeseburger saved her life because, just for a few minutes, she took Chef Slowik back to his roots. Before the fame, before the renown, before the pressure of outdoing himself each and every time to appease his peers. Slowik appreciated that, he saw that she wasn’t a ‘taker’ and gave him (even if only for a while) a bit of his humanity back. Elevated horror eh? Deeper than you think.
However, I also think that the cheeseburger represented something more. Just going back to the whole elevated horror label. Again, they can be a bit ‘la-di-da’ and many people who watch them love to dump on ‘lesser’ horror films. I’ve read recent reviews for some elevated horror flicks that praise the depth and meaning of them, while choosing to call out the likes of A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th as examples of poor and shallow horror films. Opinions are opinions and all that, but do reviewers really need to make themselves feel superior by belittling ‘leaser’ films to help praise another? I saw The Menu as a dig as those kinds of reviewers. The film is calling out pretension and does so by having its death-sentenced characters be the ‘do you know who I am’ types. The Menu may satirise the elevated horror genre but it does it in a respectful way, like Scream before it with the slasher genre. Also, I felt that the guests invited to the restaurant were basically representative of snobbish film reviewers who can’t help themselves by making out that the classics are shit because they are not ‘intelligent’ enough.
As for that cheeseburger? Well, there’s room in the world for Michelin-star food and all the pretension that comes with it. But, you know what? There’s nothing wrong with a good, well-made cheeseburger. Have all the snooty elevated horror that you want. There’s still a place for the Freddy Kruegers and Jason Voorhees of the world. Enjoy your deep, psychological character examinations and ‘arty’ blood in a film. You can still get a major kick out of Lionel in Brandead slaughtering zombies with a lawnmower and spraying gallons of claret all over the screen.
Oh, and Ralph Fiennes as Chef Slowik and Anya Taylor-Joy as Margot/Erin were awesome. Brilliant performances and wonderful chemistry between them. I definitely recommend The Menu for a watch, maybe even more than one so you can pick up on some of the more subtle background details.
Okay so, I’m a massive John Carpenter fan. He’s one of the great storytellers and filmmakers of my generation. They Live, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, In the Mouth of Madness and so on. I do love me a bit of JC. However and time for a confession, I’ve never really been much of a fan of Halloween. It’s just a very average slasher flick with a very memorable Donald Pleasence performance. I respect the film and what it did for the horror genre but given the choice, I’d rather watch something else.
When the recent Halloween legacy sequels came out, I just let them slide by without even so much as a sideways glance. Well, there’s a new Halloween legacy sequel out now and one that is said to be the definitive end to the story… until they decide to reboot it again in a couple of years. ‘Tis the season of Halloween, there’s a new Halloween film out and I always do a Halloween special for my blog. Plus, I did do a Halloween retrospective back in 2018. So, in order to finish what I started, I guess I have to take a look at the last three films as one of my Halloween specials this year. Oh yeah, I have more than one Halloween special coming for your eyes. But first, my view of the three Halloween legacy sequels.
This flick, while the eleventh in the franchise, ignores all of the sequels and is a direct sequel to the 1978 original. Michael Myers, following his Haddonfield killing spree in 1978, has been locked away at the Smith’s Grove Psychiatric Hospital for the last four decades where he has never so much as said a single word. Aaron and Dana, two real crime ‘investigators’ (read: annoying podcasters) visit Micheal, wanting to interview him about his murderous ways. Not getting anywhere as Michael Myers is not saying a word, Aaron pulls out Michael’s original mask that he wore for his killing spree, hoping to get some kind of a response. Nothing.
In Haddonfield, Laurie Strode has become a recluse and a bit of a cliché. She drinks, has a strained relationship with her daughter Karen and granddaughter Allyson and lives in a heavily fortified home as she awaits the return of Michael Myers. Still haunted by visions of what happened that night and suffering from PTSD. As they got nowhere with Micheal, Aaron and Dana interview Laurie instead and don’t get a great deal out of her either. When Michael Myers is being transferred from the Smith’s Grove Psychiatric Hospital to a high-security prison, the bus that he is being transferred on crashes and Michael escapes on October the 30th. Of course, Michael Myers is freed, gets his mask back and makes his way to Haddonfield to finish what he started 40 years before.
As a sequel to the original film, this works really damn well. One of my issues with the first film is the lack of any actual plot. It really is just a killer murdering annoying babysitters. Like totally. Here, there is a plot. You have Laurie struggling with her past and her family, who think she is going nuts. There’s Frank Hawkins, the officer who supposedly stopped and arrested Michael Myers back in 1978 and he seems to be the only one on Laurie’s side. Then, of course, there is all of the killing. Michael himself is genuinely creepy and feels like he did in the first film. If you have ever watched any of the fucking atrocious sequels, you’ll know what I mean.
Halloween has a great sense of atmosphere and dread running throughout. There are some well-done nods and references to the sequels (that no longer exist in this timeline), such as the clearing up of Laurie being Michael’s sister. The infamous masks from Halloween III: Season of the Witch and more. This is a film that was clearly made by people who had a passion for the original. It gets a bit cliché now and again, naughty babysitters obviously going to be killed, people falling over nothing for no reason as Michael Myers chases them. You know, all the typical slasher movie tropes, but they work and feel right. There are zero surprises here (except for maybe one character’s motivations). From the moment the film opens up, you know exactly where it is going. But there’s nowt wrong with that. Halloween doesn’t try to be pretentious and it knows what it is. I have watched all of the Halloween films and despite me not being a gargantuan fan of the original and that I don’t hold it up as the messiah of slasher films, like so many others do, I still have a huge amount of respect for it. I felt that this was way better than the original.
There’s an actual plot and the characters are not all annoying pricks. It is well-shot and has a genuinely unnerving tone. Of all of the Halloween films (discounting Halloween III as it is more of a stand-alone thing), this is my favourite. Jamie Lee Curtis is awesome and kicks some bum-cheeks as the ageing, but still very capable pensioner with a gun. Judy Greer as Laurie’s estranged daughter is great too. Then there is Andi Matichak as Laurie’s granddaughter, or ‘Laurie II’, she does very well. The three make a believable and very watchable trio. Halloween is a great start to this legacy trilogy and I am genuinely excited to see the next two.
Starting out with a flashback to 1978 and showing just how Frank Hawkins ‘captured’ Michael Myers after the events of the original film. The film then jumps to the present time and picks up just minutes after the ending of the previous film. A party is being held, by Tommy Doyle, as a celebration of 40 years since Michael Myers was captured and sent to the Smith’s Grove Psychiatric Hospital. Joining Tommy in the celebration are some survivors of Michael’s 1978 killing spree. Back at Laurie’s house, firefighters turn up and try to put out the fire that Laurie started to kill Michael at the end of the previous film. The firefighters accidentally set Michael Myers free and he does what he does. Kills the firefighters and gets back to terrorising Haddonfield on Halloween.
Meanwhile, Laurie, Karen and Allyson are at the hospital and being taken care of after their run-in with Michael Myers. Also at the hospital is Frank Hawkins, following his own run-in with Michael during the events of Halloween (2018). News of Michael’s latest killing spree reaches Tommy Doyle and the other survivors and they decide to form a mob and hunt down Michael Myers themselves. Back at the hospital, Laurie and Frank reminisce about the old days while Karen learns that Michael is still alive.
Halloween (2018) really was a fantastic legacy sequel that improved on the original, told a great story and continued Laurie Strode’s history. Halloween Kills shits on all of that. Laurie is unconscious/in a hospital bed for 85% of this film. The other 15%? She gets to walk around the hospital for a bit (before going back to her room), and that is a massive waste of Jamie Lee Curtis and her character. Seriously, you could edit Laurie out of the film completely and it would not affect the plot in any way. The mob, led by Tommy, is just fucking annoying and gets way more screen time than they deserve. I think the idea of having Laurie in the hospital for the entire film was a reference to Halloween II, in which Laurie is in hospital for the entire film (just without the bad wig). I personally think it would have been better to have had Laurie actually doing something in the film other than lying in a hospital bed. ‘Cos, you know, she is the main character.
There are some great references to the original flick and even some of the original actors coming back to reprise the roles that they played over 40 years ago (and some recasts). Halloween Kills is a pretty bloody film too. But, you know what? It’s not scary, it lacks atmosphere and that sense of dread that was running through Halloween (2018) is gone. This almost feels like the filmmakers set out to make a bad horror sequel to a good flick to (meta) highlight that bad horror sequels to good flicks exist. Though I’m sure that was not the intent. As a continuation of Laurie Strode’s story, this fails. As a sequel to a good first film, it fails. As an example of how to not make a film, it works. When I finished watching Halloween, I said how I was genuinely excited to see the next two. After this, I just hope the next one isn’t this bad. I’d even settle for an ‘okay’ film at this point.
Well, this it is, the finale. It’s Halloween 2019 and Corey is babysitting Jeremy… which does not end well at all. Three years later and Michael Myers’ killing spree of 2018 is still felt through Haddonfield, though Michael himself has disappeared. Laurie has moved into a house, a normal and everyday house. No fortifications, no hidden safe rooms, a house. Now living with her granddaughter, Allyson. In her downtime, Laurie is writing a memoir of her experiences with Michael Myers. Corey crosses paths with some local bullies and ends up with an injury. Laurie stops the bullies and takes Corey to the hospital, where Allyson is now working at. Corey and Allyson hit it off and strike up a relationship.
The couple agree to go to a Halloween party together. After seeing someone from his past, Corey leaves the party and crosses paths with the bullies, again. This time, they throw him off a bridge. He survives, but is taken into the sewers by ‘someone’. After regaining consciousness, Corey is confronted by Michael Myers, who has been living in the sewers since his murderous ways of Halloween night 2018. However, Michael doesn’t kill Corey, he lets him go. But why?
I tell you something, the opening of this film is amazing. Really moody and feels very Halloween and has quite a surprise outcome. Then, it all goes downhill and keeps going downhill. This is atrocious. I can see that the filmmakers wanted to try something different and subvert the fan’s expectations, but it really doesn’t work at all. Michael Myers is hardly in this, absolute bare minimum. And I don’t mean that he is underused to great effect like the shark in Jaws or even Michael Myers in the original Halloween. I mean that he is so underused that Michael may as well not even be in the film. This is kind of what they did with the previous film with Laurie by having her in a hospital and doing a whole lot of nothing. It’s now Michael’s turn to be in a film and do a whole lot of nothing.
Outside of the opening 10 minutes or so, there are no scares, no atmosphere and no surprises. It has very little to do with Laurie Strode and Michael Myers, 40 years of build-up for a finale that is nothing more than a damp squib. I mean, they basically stole the plot from Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, just without the surprises. I’m actively trying to avoid spoilers here, but you know exactly where this film is going to go before it even reaches the halfway point. Yeah, Laurie finally kills Michael (again) but even that feels like a tacked-on idea just to give this bore-fest some kind of closure and tie it in with the franchise. This could’ve been a 20-minute short just to tie up loose ends following the events of Halloween Kills and yet, it drags on for almost 2 hours. This is dull, woefully dull. The only positive, outside of the opening, is that Jamie Lee Curtis actually has some stuff to do here (despite the little screen time that she has) and isn’t stuck in a hospital doing nothing for the entire film.
If you are looking for a good Halloween film to watch this scary season, watch the 1978 original Halloween and then watch the 2018 sequel afterwards. Then, just leave it at that. The 2018 flick did such a fantastic job of bringing Laurie and Michael back that, I guess the only way to go was down. The last two films of this trilogy are awful, lets just pretend that they don’t exist.
But is this truly the end of the Halloween franchise? Nope, they’ll bring it back somehow. Whether another remake, another reboot or of they leave it 40 years and do another legacy sequel with Andi Matichak retuning as Laurie’s granddaughter. Halloween, as a franchise, has not ended. Laurie even writes a line in her memoir at the end of Halloween Ends that hints that it is not over. Michael Myers is definitively dead at the end of Halloween Ends, no doubt about it. He doesn’t suffer one of those ‘well maybe he survived’ deaths. There is absolutely no way that he could’ve survived… but the film still hints that it is not over. They’re leaving their options open for more.
Well, here we are, the Hellraiser remake. A film that has been a long time coming. I remember hearing of an up-and-coming Hellraiser remake around 10 years ago. It has been a long, long wait from then until now and the big question is, was it worth it?
Just for context, I kind of have to do this review because, a few years b?ck, I did an entire Hellraiser retrospective for the original film’s 30th anniversary as a Halloween special. So, I’m back with the latest film in the long-running franchise and on Halloween too. I just can not get away from these films, can I? Still, this can kind of be a Halloween special for this year, even though I already have something more substantial coming soon.
So then, synopsis time. Hellraiser (2022) begins with Joey (Kit Clarke) opening the famed puzzle box. He is stabbed in the hand by the box and is taken by the Cenobites. Several years later and Riley (Odessa A’zion), is a young woman struggling with drug addiction. She comes across the puzzle box and opens it but does not get stabbed, and so avoids the wrath of the Cenobites who tell her to find another to pass the box onto. Matt (Brandon Flynn), Riley’s brother, thinks that Riley is relapsing and using drugs again as she tries to tell her story about being visited by the Cenobites. Matt ends up cutting himself on the box and so, the Cenobites take him instead. Riley is offered a deal, solve more configurations of the box and use her own friends as bait, in exchange for getting her brother back. There is a bit more going on, but I don’t want to get into spoilers here, that is just the general gist of the plot.
I have been thinking about how best to sum this film up. It took me a while, but I eventually got it. This is the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake all over again. A really great and interesting take on a horror icon (hey, I enjoyed Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy) but put in a film devoid of anything worthy of note. The main characters in this are instantly forgettable. I watched Hellraiser three times for this review. I watched it once just to watch it, again to take notes for this review and a third time to refresh my noodle as I sat down to write the review proper. Even then, even after watching this three times, I still had to look up the characters’ names on IMDb. Everything about the main characters is just so ‘cookie-cutter’,bland and taken from just about every horror film made in the last 20 years. I had the exact same problem with the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake too.
Just going back to the original flick for a second. Those characters were memorable. Uncle Frank, Julia (one of the best villainesses ever), Larry and of course, the awesome Kirsty. Even the delivery men hoofing the bed up the stairs. They’re memorable because they were well-written and acted. Here though, nothing. Just very bland, very forgettable characters. What you have are just some really annoying people who scream and run a lot, with IQs lower than your average TikTok user.
Still, as I already said, I did like Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy in the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake, and I can say the same about Jamie Clayton as ‘Pinhead’ in this. Just to make this clear, she’s (if the Cenobites have a gender and is a she) not actually called Pinhead in the film, the character is credited as being The Priest, even though everyone is just going to call her Pinhead, if she is meant to be female. Anyway, I liked Clayton in the role and thought that the performance was good enough. Filling Doug Bradley’s shoes is impossible and not even worth trying (see the last two Hellraiser sequels for proof). Still, this new version of Pinhead (that’s not Pinhead) was good enough and one of the few things I actually enjoyed about the film.
The other Cenobites are used well too. They are kind of underused well in the first half of the film, but they begin to take centre stage as the film progresses and builds to its finale. There’s some great effects work here and it does get rather bloody and gruesome at times. That is, if you can see what is going on. This film is just too damn dark and I don’t mean for atmosphere or aesthetic reasons either. There is just poor lighting throughout the film. The opening scene with two characters talking, no horror, no Cenobites, etc. Just two people talking, it was really hard to make out what was going on. The entire film is like this too, just dark for no reason. Did the director not know that films can use lighting setups? Even so, this never feels as visceral or raw as the original film. It is bloody, but it is subdued gore.
I did kind of enjoy how the lore of the puzzle box was done here. It is different to the original films and admittedly, it does do something interesting with the mythology. It is just a shame that it was used in a film with really shitty characters that I didn’t care for. I would even say that there is actually too much going in here. There’s about two or three films worth of plot squeezed into 120 minutes and as a result, this film drags a lot because it gets weighed down by exposition. Then there are times when a whole lot of nothing happens. This is a Hellraiser flick it doesn’t need to be 2 hours long an doesn’t need to be this heavy with exposition. I don’t really understand why this is even a remake. Outside of its use of the box and the Cenobites, it has nothing to do with the original film. To the point where it could’ve just been another low-quality sequel that the franchise became known for. Seriously, slip this somewhere in between Hellraiser: Hellworld and Hellraiser: Judgment and it wouldn’t feel out of place at all.
Look, I’m not saying that I expected a beat-for-beat recreation of the original. It is more a case of the fact that things are so vastly different here that it really does feel like one of the latter sequels over a remake (just wait for someone to tell me that it is not a remake and is a re-adaption of the novella). Good effects work, good make-up and they did the right thing by using the original Hellraiser music too. But the final product is a very bland and ‘meh’ experience. This film is okay, at best. Of course, it sequel-baits like crazy at the end (because a film can’t just be a film these days, it has to set up a franchise). But after this, I really don’t want another. Please stop making Hellraiser films for me to write about. At this point, my suffering is legendary, even in Hell.
Okay, so truth be told. I watched this a while back and have been sitting on my review for several days now. At first, I really wasn’t sure of what to make of this one. Here we go with yet another biopic of a major star. These things are ten a penny at the moment and are becoming tiresome. Honestly, I really wasn’t in the mood to sit through another biopic and part of me really didn’t want to watch this at all. I kind of went into it with a preconception and a basic idea that I really wasn’t going to enjoy it.
So, I sat it out for a few days, just to see what other people had to say about this. Not critics, not professional reviewers, but just the general consensus from the public. The public really seems to dislike it too. I’ve read articles about viewers switching off after 20 minutes and being ‘horrified’ by the film. It’s been called ‘unwatchable’ and described as being a ‘hate letter’ about Marilyn Monroe. I read these articles and smiled, I’m not alone… even if I don’t necessarily agree with their sentiment.
“A look at the rise to fame and the epic demise of actress Marilyn Monroe, one of the biggest stars in the world.”
That brief synopsis does the job of summing up the film perfectly and still manages to not describe the film as well as it truly deserves. Before I get into the (none spoiler) review proper, this is not a biopic. At least, not in the traditional sense. Blonde is actually based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates. Now, the novel is not a faithful retelling of Marilyn Monroe’s life. The novel is more of a fictional take on Monroe’s life, set within her real life… if that makes any sense? Yes, the events in the book and film happened, but not necessarily as they did in real life. This is fiction with one foot in reality. And it is very important to know this before you get into the film because this is a major factor that a lot of the negative viewers just don’t get.
There is another major factor that you need to keep in mind. As I said, this is not a biopic, this is a straight-up horror film. This is a movie that does not sugarcoat anything. It is a harsh, brutal, vivid and very graphic horror film that is based around a fictional take on Marilyn Monroe’s life. Blonde explores issues such as child abuse and trauma, rape, mental illness and so much more. If you are looking for a nice, flowery flick that paints Monroe as an all-American icon and international mega-star, you’re not going to find that here. Blonde is bleak, it is negative, it is depressing and it is amazing for it too.
There’s a very good reason that Blonde got a controversial NC-17 rating (18 here in the UK), because this is not an easy watch at all. People are being horrified by the film because it is a horror film and a completely unapologetic one too. I’m not going to get into spoilers here, so I do have to be careful with what I do and do not say. But, as no surprise to anyone, Blonde tells the life of Norma Jeane Mortenson (soon to become Marilyn Monroe) from her childhood and right through to her death in 1962 at just 32-years-old. The film explores her meteoric rise from an unknown actress to one of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest stars at the time. The many men in her life, her insatiable appetite for sex and her many issues that would eventually lead to her questionable death. Again, this is still fiction but set in the very real world of Marilyn Monroe’s life.
Watching Blonde put me more in mind of classic horror flicks such as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and similar psychological horror films that followed it. Blonde’s writer/director Andrew Dominik has got to have been a fan of similar films too because this really does feel very much like a 1960s horror flick, but with a much more modern edge. Ana de Armas is amazing as Marilyn Monroe and she does not really play Monroe as she was in real life, the performance is more like a perceived version of what Marilyn Monroe was like. This is what I think is rubbing a lot of people up the wrong way. They think they are going to get an accurate Marilyn Monroe biopic. You’re not, you are going to get a deeply disturbing psychological horror with an impossible-to-believe depiction of Marilyn Monroe.
Some of the scenes here are very difficult to watch and I can honestly see how and why people have a lot of issues with what is shown in the film. Still, it does have the high age rating for a very good reason… trust me. Blonde is very graphic in its horror and often hits you in the face with a sledgehammer repeatedly, but it can be amazingly subtle too. This is a film about a person’s life completely crumbling and falling down around them. The fact that person is Marilyn Monroe should be largely irrelevant and once you do get that into your head, the more enjoyable the film is.
As long as you don’t go into this thinking that you are going to watch a sweet Marilyn Monroe biopic and ready yourself for a bleak and graphic horror film, you’re in for a good time. Blonde is brutal and disgusting… but that’s the point, a point that a lot of viewers are massively missing. This film isn’t ‘woke’, far from it. It’s not for all the snowflakes either. I initially went into this not watching to sit through yet another biopic and I came out if it pleasantly surprised because it was exactly what I didn’t want it to be. As the film ended, I felt like I needed a shower. I didn’t have one though, I just watched the film again instead. One of the best films I have seen this year.
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