Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones appear in FRESH by Mimi Cave, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
The horrors of modern dating are seen through one young woman’s defiant battle to survive her new paramour’s unusual appetites. (Courtesy Sundance Institute.)
As if dating these days wasn’t scary enough, FRESH presents a world where a body isn’t just metaphorically for sale – but literally. From writer Lauryn Kahn and director Mimi Cave, FRESH is a black comedy that’s as black as they come. A horrific satire of modern-day dating, it’s exactly as brutal and funny as you’d expect. With a tight script, playful visuals, and some committed, occasionally unhinged, performances, FRESH is… Well, it’s a surprisingly fresh horror-comedy that’ll stick with you long after the credits roll.
Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is fed up with those lame dates that don’t go anywhere. The whole thing’s such a drag. And she’s about ready to throw in the towel. Until she runs into Steve (Sebastian Stan), in a typical grocery store meet-cute. The two immediately hit it off, metaphorical sparks flying everywhere. And before long, Noa’s taking a spontaneous vacation with him. To a remote house in the middle of the woods. Against the advice of her best friend, Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs). Surely, a recipe for disaster, right? And it is. But most likely not in the way you’d expect. To say any more would certainly ruin the surprise. And FRESH luxuriates in those surprises.
Brutal, Funny, and Wholly Original
At first, you’d be forgiven for thinking FRESH was like any number of other rom-coms. It hits all the requisite notes, after all. But there’s also this sinister feeling that permeates the film’s entire first act. And maybe that’s because I knew going in that it was a horror movie, and was primed to spot all the red flags. However, as soon as things start feeling too comfortable, Kahn and Cave throw back the curtain and reveal the story’s actual meat-and-potatoes in all their horrific, absurd glory. And hoo boy, the last hour or so of the movie is quite a roller coaster. It’s part American Psycho and part Promising Young Woman. But somehow wholly original at the same time.
And I think that originality largely comes down to the approach the script takes with the material. At times, FRESH is a genuinely brutal movie. And the script never shies away from that brutality. But the brutality isn’t the script’s focus, either. Instead, the script focuses on survival. On how Noa tries to turn the tables and save herself from this horrific situation. And on how Mollie works to find her friend, despite the low odds of success. While the middle of the movie sags a bit as Kahn lays the groundwork for the climax, the final act is incredible. It’s cathartic, satisfying, brutal, and even a little funny. Sure, it may take the bulk of the film for everything to click into place. But when it does, it’s oh-so-good. And I loved every moment of it.
Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones are Incredible
Sebastian Stan steals the show. With shades of Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman, Stan’s Steve is deliciously unhinged. He starts off as a fairly charming (though somewhat offputting) suitor. But as the movie takes that darker turn, Stan embraces the sheer absurdity of what he’s asked to do. And his total commitment to the role only adds to Steve’s terror. This is a guy who can charm your pants off one minute and then turn into a brutal monster the next. And watching Stan bounce back and forth between those personas with such glee is beyond fun. His natural charisma helps sell Steve’s initial likability, too. And then seeing him play a role so different from what we’re used to seeing from him only adds to the experience.
Daisy Edgar-Jones delivers a knock-out performance, too. The fact that she not only holds her own against Stan’s unhinged chaos but properly goes toe-to-toe with him is beyond impressive. From the moment the film begins, Edgar-Jones’s Noa is every bit as disarmingly charming as Steve. Noa is a force to be reckoned with. And despite the spirit-breaking horrors she faces as the film progresses, this never changes. Edgar-Jones goes from funny to heartbreaking to badass and back all within the same scene sometimes. And it’s truly a sight to behold. Especially in the film’s final act, where she’s able to fully unleash herself and match Stan’s unhinged performance. For as fun as the script is, Stan and Edgar-Jones are the real standouts here.
Visually, the film is surprisingly restrained. Until the climax, of course. But before then, most of the brutality is felt rather than shown. Instead, Cave tends to focus a little more on the characters’ humanity – and the absurdism of the plot, itself. And this combination works very well. I’m not a fan of super brutal horror movies, so I always appreciate not having to see much brutality. I tend to prefer a more over-the-top approach to horror. And that’s exactly the approach Cave takes with her heavily-stylized visuals.
Despite the film’s subject matter, FRESH is an undeniably fun watch – largely because of the visuals’ playfulness. Cave displays some of the more grotesque moments with an almost horrific beauty, much like NBC’s Hannibal often did. But then there are other moments when the visuals help sell a joke with a true commitment to absurdity. And it’s so delightful. Combined with a soundtrack packed to the brim with absolute bangers, Cave delivers a breezy, thrilling feast for the eyes.
FRESH might wear its inspirations on its sleeve. And its underlying message might not feel particularly well-expanded or original. But the combination of a sharp script, playful visuals, and killer performances creates an experience unlike many others. It’s a horror movie, a pitch-black comedy, and a rip-roaringly fun time. And I can’t recommend FRESH enough. It’s a total must-watch.
FRESH had its World Premiere in the Midnight section of Sundance Film Festival 2022.
Director: Mimi Cave
Writer: Lauryn Kahn
Rating: 4 out of 5
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Part-time writer, part-time theatre nerd, full-time dork.