From: Silver Screen

REVIEW: ‘Fresh’ teems with horror beneath its rom-com surface

REVIEW: ‘Fresh’ teems with horror beneath its rom-com surface

Who would have ever thought that the transition from a classic rom-com to a suspenseful horror movie could be so seamless? 

“Fresh,” released at Sundance earlier this year, is the feature directorial debut of Mimi Cave. This is also the first big picture for star Daisy Edgar-Jones as Noa, a young woman navigating her way through the horrors of modern dating.

Noa has grown tired of the dating scene. From the endless swiping on a Tinder-like app to awkward first dates, she wonders if the hassle is worth it; that is, until she bumps into Steve (Sebastian Stan). He’s the perfect guy: handsome, witty and a surgeon. After just one date, Steve invites Noa on a weekend trip, which she readily agrees to at the behest of her best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs). Before leaving on their romantic escape, Noa spends the night at Steve’s house, where he drugs her, chains her in a room and reveals his big secret — Steve is a cannibal who sells women’s “meat” on the black market. Now it’s up to Noa to outmaneuver Steve and somehow escape, all while Mollie desperately searches for her lost friend.

Casual viewers could easily mistake “Fresh” for a typical rom-com at first glance. There’s the coincidental meet-up, the saccharine dialogue, the palpable chemistry — the film checks all the genre’s boxes. However, once the opening credits roll onto the screen about half an hour in, Cave pulls the rug out from under our feet and the horror is revealed. That being said, once terror enters the movie, there isn’t a complete tonal switch. The film keeps some of the lighter comedic elements from its rom-com leanings and combines these with the horror in an extremely fascinating mix, all while keeping viewers at the edge of their seats the entire time.

One of the main standouts of the movie is Cave’s excellent direction. Her camera is dynamic, many times swooping around the scenes. Instead of static shots of characters talking in a booth, the camera will spin around them as the background changes from setting to setting. Cave uses a vibrant, stylized approach to the lighting and colors in the film. The movie is filled with bright hues and deep shadows, providing plenty of lively contrast. For a first-time director, Cave approaches the film with a surprising amount of nuance and technique.

The film is also full of standout performances. Edgar-Jones is excellent in her role: defiant and fighting to survive, all while avoiding getting overwhelmed by her opposite, played by Stan. But in the end, the character of Steve steals the show. He’s a Patrick Bateman-esque character, and Stan is perfect in the role. He oozes charisma and charm, but becomes terrifying in the blink of an eye. In the hands of a lesser actor, some of the things Steve does in the movie could verge on the side of silly, but Stan pulls it off in darkly comedic fashion.

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While it remains a thrilling story filled with twists and turns throughout, “Fresh” has something to say about being a woman in the world of modern dating. The movie pokes fun at the hook-up culture, dating apps and the awkwardness that comes with first dates. 

Early in the film, one of Noa’s dates remarks that women used to dress with more femininity and suggests that she would look prettier in a dress. Cave uses this opportunity to comment on the male gaze and ideas men have about women being traditionally feminine, even when they don’t want to be. Later Noa talks about how “it’s all her fault” she was kidnapped, a not-so-hidden metaphor for victim blaming. Cave comments on this, speaking through another character in the film who says “it’s always their fault.”

Some may be quick to draw comparisons between “Fresh” and movies such as “Get Out” and “Promising Young Woman” with like-minded themes of dating and mistrust. Nevertheless, though “Fresh” may veer into stale territory at times, it does enough to distinguish itself from the pack, with the help of plenty of style and great performances.

“Fresh” was released on Hulu on March 4. 

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