The following article contains spoilers.
Dating can be a hellish journey to navigate. Whether it’s awkward first dates, unimaginable heartbreak or just plain weird and borderline uneasy encounters, it’s not an easy feat to find a match. Throwing yourself into a pool of other single people comes with a natural apprehension and vulnerability. The rigors of traversing the dating scene can be disheartening, and even terrifying, to many people. It’s this state of dread that serves as a backdrop for Hulu’s new movie.
Mimi Cave’s directorial debut, Fresh, is nothing short from memorable. I mean, how can a part rom-com, part cannibalistic thriller film not burn itself into your memory? Fresh joins the ranks of other horror/thriller films that capitalize on the interpersonal workings of romantic relationships. From Get Out to Midsommar, Fresh plays out its tale of modern romance through a terrifying lens that leans into the worst imaginable situations.
The first act of Fresh plays like any typical romance story. Hopeless romantic, Noa (Normal People breakout star Daisy Edgar-Jones) finds herself fumbling through the online dating scene. Bruised by bad date after bad date, Noa feels a glimmer of hope when she meets the seemingly perfect Steve (Sebastian Stan) in a chance encounter at the local supermarket. It only takes a couple dates for their fiery connection and palpable chemistry to grow, and it’s not long before Noa is being whisked away on an intimate couple’s trip by Steve. When they reach their destination and Steve announces that there isn’t much cell reception in the area, we start to feel that something disastrous is coming. At about 30 minutes into the movie, the opening credits start to roll and the film pivots from a lavish love story to a grotesque horror. A drugged Noa wakes up chained in an underground chamber where Steve explains to her his gruesome intentions of harvesting her body and selling her “meat” to high-paying clients that share in his same horrific appetite. It’s then that earlier comments made by Steve such as “I don’t eat animals” and his responsive of “just you” to Noa asking if he wanted anything to eat or drink had a more sinister meaning behind the words than previously thought. Not exactly the route that anyone could have seen coming.
The central metaphor of the horrors of modern romance is rooted in a plot so outlandish, that it is able to bring the message of Fresh to life. This is a movie in where women are seen as literal meat. It’s a clever and original way to take standard human stresses and blow them out of proportion with sleek and stylish dark comedy. It’s important to note that the film doesn’t take itself too seriously and utilizes comedy as an underlying tool in its monstrous narrative.
The cinematic stylings in Fresh are dazzling, even when dealing with the gory subject-matter. While utterly revolting at times, you somehow can’t tear your eyes from the sensory experience happening on screen. And what else is a sensory experience? Eating a well-cooked meal. Cave also pays very specific attention to detail in her directorial style. There are various up-close scenes of people eating along with other shots of bodies in fragmented frames that were intentional choices by the freshman director.
Stan’s performance is a main driver in the film. He is able to draw the audience in with his initial charming and charismatic demeanor and then, without warning, flips the switch to a diabolical cannibal. His character draws similarities to other notable twisted villains, such as Christian Bale’s character in American Psycho. When it comes to the depth of the other characters, Edgar-Jones plays Noa with a quiet strength rooted in her desire to survive Steve’s devilish intentions. Unfortunately, other characters are not quite as explored. Noa’s best friend Mollie (Jonica T. Gibbs) is reduced dangerously close to a token queer, Black character and Steve’s wife, Ann’s (Charlotte Le Bon) motivations and intentions go unexplored when it had the potential to be another intriguing plot line.
Fresh falls short when it becomes more of a survival story in the final act, effectively selling away its satirical premise that could’ve been more explored. The ending plays more as a midnight horror film than a savvy story about the terrors of modern romance. Even so, the utter chaos of the conclusion is appropriate considering how bonkers the plot is.
Although Fresh raises questions and ideas it doesn’t bother to answer, perhaps that is the point. The movie isn’t meant to change your perspective or leave you with deep, introspective questions, but to captivate and, at times, revolt. It certainly makes us excited to see what Cave comes at us with next, but, for now, let Fresh satisfy your hunger for a unique and wacked movie. Or, let it take your appetite away completely.
Fresh is now streaming on Hulu.