REVIEW: ‘Fresh’ is a Delectable Debut

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Sundance 2022 Round-Up - Fresh

Fresh is the directorial debut from Mimi Cave with the screenplay written by Lauryn Kahn that premiered at Sundance earlier this year. Fresh centers around Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) falling for Steve (Sebastian Stan) and realizing that he isn’t everything he says he is. This film starts off seeming as an off-beat rom-com but it quickly shifts to a modern-day horror story.

Noa is tired of the dating scene and utterly exhausted by the fact she can’t seem to find a genuine connection in person or even online.  She has no real family except for her best friend Millie portrayed by JoJo Gibbs. The first 30 minutes psyches audiences out. Noa goes on a terrible date and confides to Millie that maybe she’ll never find her ideal partner. Millie is encouraging, supportive, and pro-Noa doing whatever she wants romantically and sexually and there’s no reason to fret because Noa should take care of her needs regardless of the men in her life. It’s a brilliant use of intentional lull as we met Steve. With an awkward meet-cute at the grocery store, Noa feels like finally maybe she’s found a genuine connection with a ‘real’ guy who cares about her.  This tricks audiences into rooting for Steve and Noa. You garner sympathy and adoration for this “really, nice” guy. Noa falls head over heels and thinks it’s too good to be true.

However, despite the charming performance of Sebastian Stan, Kahn’s script is clever enough to drop hints that there’s something wrong with Steve. He isn’t on social media, he fibs about his family life, he begins to isolate Noa, and he invites her to a secluded, spur-of-the-moment getaway with a feverish intensity that they must leave at once. The direction of the film sharp turns as the audience arrives at Steve’s house with Noa.

Cave utilizes long shots of the minimalist set featuring long, angular beige stone walls and hallways to showcase the emptiness and seclusion of this place. She brings viewers up close to half shots of Steve’s face that sets an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. His smile no longer looked inviting but rather a weapon to snarl you up. Steve spikes Noa’s drink and we get these differing, stylish camera perspectives with Noa seeing Steve through a blurry, colorful lens and Steve’s perspective as cold, still, and pin-pointed on his prey. Then, the title card credits roll for Fresh. It feels like we’re in for a wild ride and it really hones in the film shift in an effective and intriguing way with enticing cinematography by Pawel Pogorzelski.

Inside Steve’s house, viewers experience a nightmare as Noa realizes that her new plastic-surgeon boyfriend is a cannibal. Through this factor of horror, Cave and Kahn have lots of social commentary on modern dating. There’s certainly the statement about the consumption of women, with their literal flesh being a market that men feel entitled to take. Steve has other women kidnapped in his cannibal lair,  showcasing how easily men can prey on lonely women. The objectification and commodification of women are heavily explored as Steve runs a human meat subscription box service to others with his appetite with personalized boxes features clothes, perfume, and pictures of the victims these men are consuming. Its parasocial nature is brushed off by Steve as he explains that it makes men feel closer to those women.

Daisy Edgar-Jones’s performance is absolutely stellar as she screams out in fear in her kidnapper’s confinement. It’s cutting, shrill, and captures an intensity on screen that is captivating and terrifying. Sebastian Stan’s performance also excels as Cave gives us a montage of Steve belting 80s pop songs as we witness him bludgeoning pieces of women’s legs and preparing boxes for his cannibal service. It’s utterly disgusting but not because of its gore, which I would personally love more of, but because of Cave’s suggestiveness. Throughout the film, Cave gives us snippets of various men consuming the meat of these kidnapped women. It’s gross and horrifying the lack of empathy and the commodification of humans. It feels more impactful that we only see them in the lurking background, a whole society of men so far removed from the harm.

While this aspect of the film works great, the writing does suffer as we watch Noa attempt to free herself from Steve’s grasp. There’s a balancing act between black humor and horror that sometimes doesn’t work and undercuts the messages being conveyed. This is presented in the b-plot where there are scenes where Millie begins to realize something is wrong as she feels her messages with Noa feel forced and inauthentic. Her investigating is muddled by stiff dialogue with another person she asks for help as they used to hook up. The jokes and awkwardness of exes don’t quite land. She, also, finds Steve’s family and his wife and calls for a woman-to-woman empathy with a small thrown joke that feels a bit weird and is overshadowed by the severity of the situation. It does eventually land successfully once Mollie and Steve interact.

The chemistry between Edgar-Jones and Stan highlights when the black comedy does excel though. There’s a dinner scene as Noa attempts to worm her way to his good side by being on a “date” with him where he’s feeding her a piece of a woman named Hope. All the ill-fitting jokes are made in their exchange and I could not help but laugh in utter shock at how sick and twisted it is but, also, how hilarious and brilliant it comes off as.

That’s the strength of the film when Cave and Kahn are delivering smart commentary against the backdrops of a disgusting cannibal film. The last 30 minutes place Noa as a possible final girl, where she and the other kidnapped women attempt to escape Steve’s cannibal lair and it’s amazing to witness. The fight scenes are gnarly with Cave’s camera work pulling up incredibly close to the bloody action. The commentary and comedy boil over into one of the most fun revenge-filled ending sequences I’ve seen in a really long time where I rooted for Noa and her friends to really give Steve, and metaphorically all abusive men, what they deserve.

Fresh may be a little messy at times but it does not detract from this delectable debut from Cave and a solid screenplay from Kahn. Sebastian Stan and Daisy-EdgarJones give stellar performances that make Fresh a must-watch for its snark and its horror. Filled with some amazing laughs, terrifying moments, and nail-biting sequences, this is a great new entry into the subgenre of cannibal horror thrillers that’s interesting, biting, and smart.

Fresh releases on Hulu on March 4th, 2022.


FRESH
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10
7.5/10

TL;DR

Fresh may be a little messy at times but it does not detract from this delectable debut from Cave and a solid screenplay from Kahn. Sebastian Stan and Daisy-EdgarJones give stellar performances that make Fresh a must-watch for its snark and its horror. Filled with some amazing laughs, terrifying moments, and nail-biting sequences, this is a great new entry into the subgenre of cannibal horror thrillers that’s interesting, biting, and smart.