Cerebrating the dread of dating while coasting through a ghastly journey of flesh, mod dancing and the captivating individual that is Sebastian Stan, Mimi Cave’s FRESH brings a familiar yet contemporary worldview into the realm of horror, along with prompt commentary about the female experience and exploitation through the usual suspects of horror films.
Since its Sundance premiere earlier this year, Cave’s directorial debut has been making generally positive waves among its Hulu streaming audience, accomplishing its mission to appeal to horror fans and rom-com viewers alike. It transcends schlocky fare by way of Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan’s immense chemistry, which feels all too casual and real, not to mention its hazy camerawork (skillfully done by Pawel Porgorzelski of Midsommar fame).
Noa, played resolutely by Normal People’s influential Edgar-Jones, seems unlucky in love via dating apps and horrible first dates with brazenly stereotypical alpha males (scarves included). Losing enthusiasm, she wonders if the scene will ever provide what she longs for: a bona fide connection. As if fate heard her pleas, Steve, played by Marvel sweetheart and 2022 Hulu superstar Stan, turns on the charm during a meet-cute in a supermarket, thus initiating their whirlwind romance that eventually spirals into a cannibalistic cyclone from hell.
Not only is Steve capturing women: he is slowly harvesting their organs and tissues to sell to rich cannibals. That’s the truth! What started as a simple conversation in the produce aisle has now become (for lack of a better term, and one used at the premiere’s red carpet)... a meat-cute.
Insert JoJo T. Gibbs as Mollie, Noa’s closest friend and aide who tries to follow the footprints of the couple’s couple’s odd “situationship." Through general protectiveness and intuition, the extreme red flags overtake Mollie’s view, and she begins her journey to find Noa. As each character confides and contorts in and amongst one another, the path to safety becomes murky, unraveling a darker thread in the already ghastly tale.
We’ve seen a darker side from Stan before, relevant after his portrayal of Tonya Harding’s ex-husband and Nancy-Kerrigan-knee-injury-perpetrator Jeff Gillooly from I, Tonya. Just as Stan did in Craig Gillespie’s 2017 film, he carries the psychologically deranged partner character in FRESH to a new extreme.
As an overall performance, Stan delivers the Ted Bundy-esque alluring male who captivates both Noa and the audience into truly believing, “Hey, he can’t be as bad as the other guys!” The switch from an endearing conversation about grapes to actual torture and murder is jarring at first but steadily plays out in time.
Edgar-Jones’ performance as Noa evokes the emotions of turmoil and scheme of hostage and meshes as she begins to play along with Steve in order to cultivate an escape, culminating in a tense standoff over a sampling of human meat. This, of course, is to resume with Steve as he continues to show favoritism over Noa.
Screenwriter Lauryn Kahn, known primarily for her comedic style in films such as Ibiza, brings an uninhibited approach to the dialogue of the characters, who exhibit a startling playfulness as they jump between easy-going and perilous topics. Convenient writing exists in FRESH, and it can come off as clumsy or jilted at times, but the fascinating dynamic between Edgar-Jones and Stan easily masks this deficiency to truly entertain.
FRESH is modern horror at its best, refreshing the notions of gore, dread and fright with a romantic comedy twist. It excels when it dares to push its genre boundaries with satirical nonsense and genuinely unsettling moments in the pursuit of phenomenal performances. Though steadily drawn and subtly perversive, the film will no doubt be regarded as a horror powerhouse.