THIS ANTI-MONITOR REVIEW OF ‘FRESH’ IS SPOILER-FREE.
by Matt Fleming. With the constant flood of chaos and instability in the modern world, people have the right to be paranoid about looking for love amidst the disorder. For anyone who has tried online dating, the very idea of trusting a stranger with any form of intimacy can be terrifying—for women, I can only imagine the fright. The fear of what can go wrong has long been the enemy of comfort; Fresh makes a compelling argument for solitude.
When Fresh hits on these fears, it packs a wallop. Coming distinctly from the woman’s perspective (it’s written by Lauryn Kahn and directed by Mimi Cave, their first collaboration), Fresh makes no bones about its central premise; when a woman let’s her guard down and says “fuck it,” when that protective veil lifts, even briefly, that’s when the horror lurches in.
The film follows young, single Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) as she idly looks for love, exhausting the potential for finding a match on another generic dating app. After a particularly debasing first date, Noa experiences a genuine meet-cute in the produce aisle with Steve (Sebastian Stan), a charming reconstructive surgeon that seems too good to be the real deal. Of course, that’s totally the case: once Steve earns Noa’s trust, he ensnares her, and soon puppy love turns Cujo. When things take a grisly turn, Steve’s own infatuation becomes the key to Noa’s survival.
Fresh delves into some macabre taboos that are rare in modern mainstream fare, typically relegated to B-movie horror territory. It packs in allusions to global conspiracies that go undeveloped and strange feints to schlockier fare like Human Centipede while leaving plenty of potential gore off-screen, two creative decisions that might disappoint horror fans who show up looking for a bloodbath. For every bit of butchery the film does have Fresh dutifully attempts to even things out with the romantic comedy that lies beneath its surface. This creates a further imbalance of tone; the film’s holding back enough carnage and ideas for the sake of broader rom-com appeal that it can leave viewers hungry for something meatier.
In her feature directorial debut, Cave moves the camera gracefully through the film’s socially unnerving subject matter as she advances the story, but she’s working from formula. Kahn’s screenplay borrows a couple of beats from Jordan Peele’s Get Out—Noa’s best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs) is tasked with Lil Rel Howery’s dual role of detective and rescuer, for instance—but it lacks Get Out‘s crucial moments of levity and commentary.
The film is carried by its two leads, whose chemistry provides relief between the film’s more disturbing moments. Sebastian Stan, following up a wildly charismatic turn in Hulu’s Pam & Tommy miniseries, ably pivots from charming to psychotic, while Daisy Edgar-Jones (familiar to fans of the BBC Three/Hulu series Normal People) pushes a jaded character to emotional and physical extremes with an energy that inspires a glimmer of light just as the film starts down darker avenues. Whatever kind of messed-up romance this movie is attempting to portray, these two make it believable.
To that end, Fresh makes little use of its supporting players. Gibbs is fantastic as Mollie, but her character’s motivations are one-note and the film’s convolution of side characters (including a bewildering subplot involving a bartender) ultimately trips up Gibbs’ own potential as a hero in this story. Dayo Okenyi, Charlotte Le Bon, and Andrea Bang round out the supporting cast, but they also wind up in the film’s periphery. It’s apparent that each character was crafted with juicy details and intriguing backstories in mind; to hint at such and withhold it is a disservice to such an appealing cast.
Fresh wants to be an original, fun, terror-inducing time. It doesn’t shift from romantic comedy to shock horror in the vein of You’re Next as deftly as it could have, but it has enough surprises to lull viewers into a brief state of comfort before it gnashes its teeth and strikes. In the instances where it effectively sinks its teeth in, Fresh doesn’t let go without its pound of flesh.
Directed by Mimi Cave.
Written by Lauryn Kahn.
Produced by Adam McKay, Kevin J. Messick, and Maeve Cullinane.
Starring Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan, Jojo T. Gibbs, Charlotte Le Bon, Andrea Bang, Dayo Okeniyi.
Rated R for spicy language and a lean offering of viscera.