Written by Lauryn Kahn
Directed by Mimi Cave
I got married in 2011, so I just missed the era of ubiquitous dating apps and how these programs have restructured dating in the 21st century. I remember the website OkCupid and Match.com, but apps like Tinder and Bumble are just beyond my dating experiences. The people who have engaged with these apps have gone on to pen stories by “Cat Person” or films like Promising Young Woman. While I have not seen that film, reviews I’ve read expressed some disappointment with how the premise was executed, not sure if it wanted to be serious or a dark comedy. Fresh is much more confident in its tone but still not perfect. This is comedic but has many moments where I couldn’t quite understand what the director was going for because it clashed with other moments.
We meet Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) on a blind date with one of these app people, a young man wearing an ugly scarf who seems to want to ruin the date. He keeps digging his hole deeper with minor critiques of Noa, and when she inevitably backs away from the good night kiss, huffs & puffs away. It’s easy to understand her reluctance to go on many dates when they end that badly. However, one evening during a stop by the neighborhood grocery store, she bumps into Steve (Sebastian Stan). He’s a little older but far more charming & charismatic. She gives him her number, and they follow up with a casual date that only strengthens her attraction to him. But this is a horror movie, so we know a twist is coming. That is revealed thirty minutes into the picture, immediately followed by the credit sequence, a rather bold move for this first-time director.
I can’t say I loved Fresh, and by the third act, I was tuning out, but there are great moments here. One of the biggest problems with the film is its almost two-hour runtime. When the opening titles rolled, I checked the remaining time and mentioned to my wife that this movie would have to earn that runtime. What I mean by that is, for me, this reads like a mid-tier movie, something that studios would release in theaters in the 80s and 90s and not really feel pressure to make a ton of money off of. It takes place mainly in a single location; the cast is no more than half a dozen people, so you don’t have an overwhelming budget to make up. It’s the sort of film that should be a tight 90 minutes. Beyond that, you ask a lot from people, and it’s one of the reasons I dislike many of the theatrically-released films these days, especially lighter spectacle fare.
Speaking of big blockbuster entertainment, it was nice to see Sebastian Stan outside of Marvel movies. I find that franchise to just kill actors’ real talent, so you have to seek out a project like this to see how good they really are. For the role of Steve, he has to navigate being a cool, charming guy against his more deviant side in a balancing act that lasts the whole movie. There are moments where I think it treads too far into American Psycho territory and didn’t feel like an homage. Once Noa becomes aware of her situation, we watch from a distance as at some moments she seems to be planning to kill him, and then others feign being won over by his charms. It’s not until the very end that the audience knows for sure which way she is going. Edgar-Jones was new to me, and she is very confident, able to portray the character with that mixture of vulnerability and simmering anger.
I don’t know if I was entirely on board with the comedic elements of Fresh. Personally, I don’t like horror comedies, so that’s not the movie’s fault, just a personal preference. However, the cinematography provided by Pawel Pogorzelski (Ari Aster’s camera guy) helps elevate the affair by collaborating with Cave on some incredibly interesting shots. This is a gory & squeamish movie, and to pull that off, you have to be very intentional with what you show and what you don’t. Images of plump, juicy flanks and cuts of meat are very visceral; you can feel the juices, leading to a deeply nauseating sense.
With the film’s lengthy runtime, I was very disappointed with a couple elements. Race here falls into some exhausting old tropes. Noa’s best friend, a black bisexual woman Mollie (played by Jojo T. Gibbs), becomes a plot element rather than a fully fleshed-out person. She’s the script’s way of delivering some shocking reveals about Steve and never really has the level of agency that would lift the character above just a cliche best Black friend. There’s also an additional female character introduced about halfway into the movie that I thought would be explored a little further. Her presence in the story presents some great opportunities to explore themes of feminism and sisterhood more deeply. Nope. She’s left as a one-dimensional person who provides a second climax to the movie. For a first effort, Cave has done many amazing things here, but I certainly think there’s room for growth. A tighter script and a focus on tonal consistency are two things I hope to see in her next picture.