Fresh (2022) Is as Fresh as It Claims to Be
First Non-Festival Release: March 4, 2022 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Mimi Cave
Writer: Lauryn Kahn
Runtime: 114 Minutes
Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan, Jojo T. Gibbs
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) hates dating but that doesn’t stop her from taking a chance on Steve (Sebastian Stan), a charming man who swept her off her feet in a grocery store. Soon after, all of the horrible first dates and unwanted dick pics seem worth it to Noa as she shares the good news with her best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs). She extolls on how Steve is not only great sex but an excellent listener, the opposite of what she has endured so far. Unfortunately for Noa, there’s more to Steve than she knows and his appetite for the unusual may be a dealbreaker.
Modern dating is cut to pieces in Fresh with strong acting, witty storytelling, and relevant social commentary.
Long but never dull, Fresh maintains its narrative nerve by slowly portioning out morsels of its darkly comic story. It helps that it starts and ends as two different movies seamlessly stitched together. The first part an adorable meet-cute where one cannot help but root for the couple before evolving into a horrific display of human cruelty and psychological manipulation. Fresh manages to translate the mundane horrors of dating and extrapolate them into a bigger version of themselves to lampoon.
From the necessity of vetting your date to the crushing reality of finding out your partner isn’t who they advertised them to be, Fresh cuts up sharp satire against the conventions we have debased ourselves to when searching for a partner. It’s clear that Steve isn’t who he says he is but the extent unfurls over the film’s near two hour runtime. Kidnapping, torture, and murder may be a stretch for 99% of dating interactions, but all have always been on the table since the dawn of humanity. Fresh pairs this up with a date’s lies about marriage and profession. Of course, part of the betrayal is Noa’s captivity but beyond that her faith in dating plummets even further. How can she trust a convention when she believes she finally finds ‘the one’ only to realize he is nothing like he promised?
Beyond its general commentary on dating, Fresh cuts deeper for its female characters. Steve’s victims are quite literally used and consumed for the enjoyment of men. Held prisoner and forced to slowly go insane while Steve takes them piece by piece for the highest bidder, it’s no wonder we witness one of them devolve into complete insanity. His buyer’s identities solidify this further, as they are given simple names like “Business Man” and “Politician” as they dine on the seasoned remains of Steve’s older victims.
Extending the metaphor for how women are treated as commodities, Fresh eviscerates the idea that women are helpless in this struggle and that fighting back is an option. Noa employs the same psychological manipulation Steve employs to cajoling her over to his murder home. Mollie refuses to ignore the red flags she finds in Noa’s partner and treads carefully to leave enough of a trail for others to find and understand. By the film’s end, there’s no equivocating. The women use plenty of violence to escape their captor, and there is a refreshing lack of moralization.
Sebastian Stan toes the line between his initial sweet leading male and the positively psychotic man that Steve is. He realizes that his taste is unusual but instead of fighting that, he embraces it. Finding a community that revels in the same disturbing indulgences that also pay him top dollar to supply them emboldens him beyond recognition. Stan plays Steve with such affable ferocity that one could understand how he is able to trick so many women. Moments of tenderness for Noa betray the efficiency of his operation. He doesn’t have time for the other girls, especially with his wife and kids. Noa, however, is special to him and he cannot quite figure out why. It’s clear by the end what he recognizes in Noa is what ultimately leads to Noa’s fulfilling character arc.
The psychology of Noa is even more fascinating. Her dating history has led her to believe she is unable to find love, yet she slowly tears down her walls for a guy that says and does all the right things. Once she finds herself in the situation she is in, this reality sinks in further. Her desire to live outweighs everything else. Noa goes to great lengths to convince Steve that he is right about how different she is, and sometimes it even bleeds over into herself. Daisy Edgar-Jones has the difficult job of playing straight against Stan and does a phenomenal job. Her performance mixes a wonderful blend of vulnerability and mental acuity that makes Noa a formidable opponent given the circumstances.
Beyond its excellent story and actor, Fresh is simply a well-made film. Visually it is stunning. The food and consumption photography is a visual delight. Edited to perfection and interspersed with increasingly nauseating depictions of meat and the men who devour it, Fresh continually reminds the viewer of the disposable nature of women in modern society. A kickass soundtrack breathes life and energy into the film whenever the beats change, or things get too heavy. The mixture of current hits, classical, and throwback jams give Fresh a bit of a jukebox feel. A personal highlight of the movie is the juxtaposition of bright 80s/90s bangers set against truly horrific or bizarre moments of Steve’s craziness.
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Nothing short of captivating, Fresh appeals to those who wish to live through another modern dating horror story while tasting something new. Leads Edgar-Jones and Stan carry the film to excellence with their nuanced and sturdy performances, while the remaining ensemble do a solid job as well. Sharp social commentary and even sharper filmmaking make this Hulu original one to share with all your friends. Mimi Cave’s directorial debut is a satisfying and full horror comedy experience that makes this reviewer craving more from her. Come hungry, leave happy, and watch Fresh as soon as you can.
Overall Score? 7.5/10