Much has been said when it comes to the realm of modern dating. Romance is dead, love is manufactured, people put on a persona. Many long for the “old days” of bumping into someone at a bar or a party or, in Noa’s case, at the grocery store. Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is your average young person trying to navigate the dating scene today. Between swiping right on Chads who comment on how she should try wearing dresses to accepting that living life alone might be a better alternative, finding love is a struggle.
Enter Steve (Sebastian Stan). Charming, funny, and undeniably hot, he seems to be the perfect package. Not only is he an impressive plastic surgeon, but he’s not tied to social media and seems to be totally okay meeting someone the old-fashioned way. The two bump into each other at the produce aisle of a grocery store, and the rest is, as they say, history. Post-meet-cute, they go on a date before tumbling into bed for a hook-up. Soon, he’s whisking her off to a cabin in the woods for a getaway that seems like the perfect ending to a rom-com.
Except, while Fresh has both romance and comedy elements, it is most firmly placed in the horror category, and it takes a very sharp turn for our hero, Noa. What seems to be the perfect courtship is turning into the relationship of nightmares. In a story about control, domination, and consumption, director Mimi Cave offers up an exciting new twist on a familiar story.
There are many elements of Fresh that hardly fit its namesake. The trope of charming guy turned twisted killer is a tale as old as time, and any true-crime aficionado knows there is truth to the fiction. The take on the exhaustion of modern romance is similarly familiar ground; most sitcoms and dramedies today have something to say about the perils and annoyances of Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble. Even Steve’s true motives and proclivities have been infamously explored in horror, though the reveal is quite surprising.
However, Cave takes these familiar elements and mishmashes them together in a way that feels…fresh. The camera is kinetic as it follows a roguish but somewhat manic Steve around, swinging to-and-fro. It snaps back and forth between events happening in the present and those in the near future. It is rarely overt or obtrusive, but when Cave wants you to know that she’s making a statement, she states it out loud. This direction is bolstered by Lauryn Kahn‘s witty script. The humor is filled with puns but not in a dad-at-a-barbecue kind of way, it’s extremely dark, and yet you can’t help but spare her a chuckle. Noa and Steve are funny together, and although Steve is clearly a psychopath, Stan is insanely enjoyable to watch. He really relishes every line once the mask comes off, and he’s able to embrace who he really is in front of Noa.
Edgar-Jones is impressive, and as the stakes get higher, so does the cat-and-mouse game between her and Steve. As she formulates a plan, Edgar-Jones adds layers to her performance. At times, it’s hard to tell what is the truth and what isn’t, which feeds into both the themes of the film and the impressiveness of her talent.
But, Fresh is not without its flaws. Yes, the film rehashes familiar tropes and as an added bonus has a perfect quirky soundtrack to boot. But, toward the third arc, it falters just a bit. Fresh operates best when it’s not trying to overtly make a statement. It loses some subtlety in favor of victorious moments, and it’s a shame because if those bits of fat were trimmed off, the audience would still be able to put together the message. Fresh is an allegory, which means it requires some afterthought and contemplation, dishing out the obvious detracts from the cleverness.
For Cave’s first feature, Fresh is still wildly enjoyable. The concept is an exciting new vehicle for a spin on some well-worn tropes, giving them a facelift for today’s audiences. If this is just the beginning, then the future looks bright.
Fresh premiered at Sundance this week, and is scheduled to be released on Hulu on March 4.