A cinematic meal that may not be for all appetites, Fresh is an unsettling and effective debut feature from director Mimi Cave that will strike a chord with many—and not just the traditionally aggrieved straight-dating women of Portland.
The film centers on Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a single 20-something traversing the Portland's heterosexual dating scene. It's a hellspace. And while the film is entirely fictional, Fresh feels particularly incisive at capturing the misery moments of modern app dating.
In one such scene Noa endures a cringe-worthy date with a man whose arrogance is as obnoxious as the scarf that he trails into his food. After Noa declines another date he throws a tantrum, insults her, and leaves—cementing the Mephistophelian mood.
When a chance encounter at the grocery store presents suave possibility in Steve (Sebastian Stan), Noa is intrigued and cautiously hopeful. But our hero makes the classic error of following a grocery store meet-cute to a remote (Cottage Grove) location, even over the concerns of her friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs).
Based on this setup, you may think you know where Fresh going next. You absolutely do not. Suffice to say, things take a turn for the strange and only keep getting more twisted from there.
Writer Lauryn Kahn has crafted a story as cutting in its humor and it is in terror. The drop of the title card—a good 30 minutes in—signals the switch, and from there the film consistently ratchets the gore. It mixes perfectly with Cave’s cinematic direction, which is confident and even graceful when appropriate, instilling the whole film with an almost dreamlike sensibility.
In particular, the film's use of mirrors heightens the terror, while also obscuring the plot's slow reveal. These visual sequences are striking and stomach-churning, though also worthy of awe for their meticulous construction.
Then the film introduces musical numbers to the horror / cat-mouse mix, creating a palpable sense of unease mixed with a kinetic energy that gets under your skin. Cave instills every frame with an ambitious sense of scope, even as much of the film’s setting is in confined spaces.
The performances fit together flawlessly. We know Edgar-Jones possesses emotional range from her performance as Marianne Sheridan on the Hulu series Normal People but in Fresh she's on a whole other level. Similarly, Stan delivers some of his best work to date, conveying persistent unhinged energy that keeps you on your toes.
Fresh is one of those films that stays with you. It's not always easy to stomach, but the delicate unwrapping of the narrative has fans and critics alike imploring viewers to avoid all spoilers before they tune in.
The film went straight to streaming on Hulu so, while we wish wish it could be seen in a theater—where you could share in the communal experience of it all unraveling before you—that does mean you’ll have more ease accessing the film's stunning narrative heights.
Proving herself to be a director to watch, Cave has made a film that is absolutely overflowing with love in its craft and horror in its story, and that can be felt all the way up to its devastatingly funny final punchline.
Fresh is currently streaming on Hulu.