Dating the modern age sucks. The endless cycle of fresh profiles, selling a person’s personality within a limited number of words, terrified of being catfished or even worse, swindled. Then, when there’s a match, there’s the weight of expectations, all one can do is hope there’s a mutual attraction, they’re not rude or worse, a serial killer. It’s an endless cycle of rejection and disappointment that can weigh heavily on the soul. But when the right person comes, it is a magical experience of understanding and togetherness (cue The Hallmark Channel).
In Mimi Cave’s Fresh, we meet Noa, who is rightfully exhausted by the whole dating process, her pain reaches through the screen as she sits across the table from a man who just used this date for free food and to share his views about women no longer being as feminine as they should because of their over-sized clothes. She leaves completely disgusted by the experience as he calls her a “stuck-up bitch.” Yet, she tries again…and is promptly greeted by dick pics.
But like all rom-coms, love comes knocking at her door in the most unexpected way when she’s standing in a supermarket’s fresh produce aisle. A man by the name of Steve, played by Sebastian Stan approaches with a smile. Armed with natural charm, dreamy eyes, he is competent, friendly and looks like he bathes daily. What more can Noa ask for? Their encounters turn into long talks and sleepless nights. Love is in the air.
This is what perfection looks like to Noa as her days of swiping right are over as they begin to date. So what if her bestie Molly (Jojo T. Gibbs) is alarmed by Steve not being on social media? After all those unsolicited penis pictures, Steve is what Noa deserves. He loves his family, has manners and he’s a doctor! Caution to the wind be damned, this has to be love, right? Steve makes her feel seen and she wants to know Steve more when he surprises her with a weekend getaway to his remote and lush home, his sanctuary.
But as a viewer, something feels off and it’s hard to accurately pinpoint. It’s nearly thirty minutes into the movie and the title credits haven’t started, the music feels different, the tone has shifted. Noa’s head is spinning just thinking about all of her good luck when she literally hits the floor after a sip of Old Fashioned and wakes up to a surprise no one saw coming.
What happens next is the real plot of the movie as Noa learns she is no longer living in a Hallmark Channel rom-com but a Shudder nightmare as events turn darker than a well-edited Stephen King novel.
What happens next is a dizzying, shocking adventure into madness as director Mimi Cave reveals her true intentions with all the warning signs and clues viewers happily missed because love is love, damnit. Who the hell goes to a house deep within the woods with no cell service? Why did Steve stand in the middle of the frozen food aisle like he was waiting for her to walk into his life? And why is Steve so pretty? Can Uber even find Steve’s house? The signs were all there, but screenwriters Lauryn Kahn and Cave know how to keep the movie flowing without giving viewers a chance to breathe once the script’s true intentions are revealed.
Mimi Cave is brilliant and it’s hard to believe this is her feature debut as she unravels a pleasant happy tale with a twisted love story that’s both horrifying and hilarious in its uncomfortability. The misdirect is chillingly bold but a highly effective choice that taps into social commentary without bashing its audience over the head with its messaging. While Fresh lightly touches the surface of ridiculousness, Fresh feels realistic, its characters are relatable, and these are events that can and do happen (hello, Investigation ID Channel) even when the viewer thinks that it’s not possible. Its effectiveness is its truthfulness, adding another layer of shock.
Like all movies, a script and a director can only go so far if its talent doesn’t possess the ability to sell their character, their actions and the world(s) created. Fear not, for Fresh features a cast that turns itself over to the madness, building on the chemistry and hilarity of the situation they find themselves in. Stan is charming, caring and attentive; there’s a sense of comfort in Steve. He’s someone parents would approve; siblings would want to hang out with. He fits effortlessly into any social circle. But when the script flips, he’s cold, calculating, menacing and completely unhinged; all while still being charming and slowly enticing us and welcoming us into his real world. After years of watching him play The Winter Solider/Bucky Barnes, it’s refreshing to see him play against type and flex his versatility as an actor. He is having and it shows.
There’s a sweetness and vulnerability to Edgar-Jones as we watch Noa blindly fall in “like” with Stan. She plays the character open and honestly, but when the script flips there’s a different side shown to her. She is determined, highly astute and uses her silence to her advantage, speaking with purpose; every conversation she initiates has a goal. Every action is believable and makes the audience question will she join Stan in his situationship? Could this be her happy ending?
In a world of The Disappearance of Alice Creed, Get Out and Promising Young Woman, flipping the script is not unique, but Fresh does it smartly, using horror not to gross viewers but to pull them into Stan’s world filled with memorable moments. Yes, this is a violent film, but it uses its violence to discuss trauma, the weight of living up to society’s expectations and how others use this to exploit others. Fresh stays with the viewer long after the credits roll, living in their bones, hopefully making viewers a little more cautious about the strangers they let into their lives.
Fresh will release on Hulu on March 4th.