The Most Successful Recent Dark Comedies Are from the Class-Warfare Genre
Without spoiling the just-released horror comedy The Menu for those who haven't seen it (because that includes us, so we literally can't spoil it), something about this movie feels very familiar and ... zeitgeist-y. Going by nothing but the trailer, it's about a bunch of rich people attending some sort of exclusive restaurant whose courses include "torture" and "being chased by the staff, for some reason." That reason probably has to do with the "rich people" part, judging from the moment when Chef Ralph Fiennes asks a non-rich Anya Taylor-Joy if she's "with us or with them."
While this isn't the first culinary-themed horror comedy mind-#$%@ movie to come out in 2022 (there was also Flux Gourmet and Hulu's Fresh), the class warfare aspect of The Menu feels like it's part of a much wider cultural moment. Movies about rich people getting viciously slaughtered seem to be all the rage with dark comedy directors these days, and not even rich Gen Z-ers (or Millennials playing Gen Z-ers) are safe, as seen in the recent Bodies Bodies Bodies.
Often, these movies are about rich people attempting to murder some lowly commoner in accordance with their bizarre rich people customs, only for the commoner to turn the tables and kill them. Examples include Get Out (rich Upstate New Yorkers vs. regular Black guy), The Hunt (rich liberals vs. middle-class "deplorables"), and Ready or Not (rich board game fortune heirs vs. former foster home kid).
Sometimes these movies even dip into the same pool of actors: Taylor-Joy was also in Thoroughbreds, in which she hires an inept drug dealer to murder her rich stepdad, while Ready or Not's Samara "I Can't Believe It's Not Margot Robbie" Weaving also stars in Mayhem, where she plays a woman who rampages through a building full of rich lawyers along with a disgruntled employee played by Steven Yeun.
Yeun also plays a minor role in Sorry to Bother You, where (spoilers for a fantastic movie you really should have watched by now) rich people are turning workers into super-strong half-horse creatures, which sounds like something Elon Musk would have already done by now if it was possible. Shockingly, this plan ends up backfiring on them in a pretty violent way. Another WTF one is Velvet Buzzsaw starring Jake Gyllenhaal, where the paintings of an artist who died in obscurity cause modern art pieces to come alive and murder the pretentious art types trying to profit from his work.
Of course, this isn't a purely American phenomenon: look at South Korea's Parasite, which starts out as a comedy about a lower-class family scamming an upper-class one but takes a rather dark turn by the end. Other popular movies outside this specific genre that still fit the general "F the rich" mood include Hustlers (no murders, though they get close), Knives Out (the one rich guy who dies is actually not trash), and Joker (there are jokes, but we wouldn't call it a comedy).
It's curious that what we're dubbing "ultra-violent class-warfare dark comedies" suddenly started popping up everywhere in the late 2010s -- it's like screenwriters suddenly decided we were past the point of sending rich villains to luxury prisons with tennis courses like in The Wolf of Wall Street. Even the anti-capitalist masterpiece that is Will Ferrell's The Other Guys (directed by The Menu, Fresh, and Hustlers producer Adam McKay) was pretty kind to its rich villains. Today, instead of getting a government bailout, the bad guys would have ended up "missing the bushes," like The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson.
It's like these movies are a coping mechanism to get us through a world where the ultra-rich keep getting away with their crimes; they're a way to blow off steam that doesn't involve learning how to operate a guillotine. This begs the question: would the French Revolution ever have happened if the French peasants had simply started doing plays where someone puts explosives inside Marie Antoinette's cake? Something to ponder while we wait for Elon Musk to get a $45 fine for his Twitter shenanigans.
Thumbnail: Searchlight Pictures