Why do I keep underestimating Sebastian Stan? It’s easy to take the handsome actor for granted, given the fact that he’s consistently good in almost every part he chooses. But he has been using his popularity to push his influence in the last few years, backing unpredictable projects that find him playing an FBI agent (in Karyn Kusama’s criminally underrated Destroyer), the younger version of J.K. Simmons (in the tragic love story I’m Not Here), Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, and in the twisted Sundance thriller Fresh, a serial killer who abducts women for a shockingly horrifying practice.
I’m going to throw a spoiler warning in here, because the less that you know about Fresh heading into it, the more effective it will be. Because even in the first act of director Mimi Cave’s Sundance feature, Sebastian Stan relies solely on the charm and natural good looks that he easily could coast on, before the rest of the movie allows him to show off the impressive range that keeps reminding me of how very talented of an actor he is.
Fresh begins as a commentary on the perils of the modern dating scene, and even there, it boasts sharp observations regarding the difficulty to connect in a tech-driven, stubbornly independent generation. Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones, also terrific) endures dead-end dates and wastes too much time swiping through virtual coupling services. So imagine her surprise when she runs into the charming stranger Steve (Stan) in the produce department of their local grocery store. Mild flirtations turn into actual conversations, and a handful of dates lead to a whirlwind courtship. And when Steve suggests a weekend getaway, Noa’s cautious… but also willing to finally drop her guard and give love a chance.
Big mistake. Steve’s a serial killer. Beyond that, Steve – who admitted to Noa that he’s a plastic surgeon – keeps his victims alive so he can flay their flesh… and sell it off to the highest-bidding cannibals. Yeah, Fresh is that kind of movie. And it survives that drastic transition from “the horrors of dating” to “the horrors of escaping a lunatic’s basement lair” because Sebastian Stan effectively occupies both personalities seamlessly. Like a handful of actors who have come before him, Stan injects his monster with a level of wit and humor, without ever drifting too far away from the elements that still make him terrifying. Stan and Edgar-Jones embark on a mental (and physical) cat-and-mouse game, and the deeper we wade into Steve’s world, the more disturbing and emotional the trip becomes.
Again, I should have come to expect this versatility from Stan. Because even in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he has presented a full range of emotions as Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier. Track his progression from Captain America: The First Avenger to his contributions to the Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and you could easily make the argument that no other MCU character has gone through the number of drastic transitions that Stan has had to play.
Nothing quite as drastic as a serial killer who sells women’s flesh to a black market of wealthy cannibals. Not yet, anyway. But Fresh reminds us of the depths that Stan is willing to go for a juicy role – sorry, really bad choice of words – and it ensures I won’t be sleeping on either Stan or Daisy Edgar-Jones when I see their names attached to a project. Fresh played at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, and plans to release on March 4 from Fox Searchlight. Want to keep up to date on all of the horror movies reaching theaters this year? Bookmark our guide to Upcoming Horror, and check it often.