The horrors of modern dating seen through one young woman's defiant battle to survive her new boyfriend's unusual appetites.
Congratulations to director Mimi Cave on creating the perfect ‘Sarcastic Nightmare Downer Girl’ thesis film in her debut feature. Fresh is resonant because contemporary dating life is chopped; a person broken down into digestible bits and pieces to fill a public profile. It feels destructive and evil to serve oneself on a platter in their most desirable and abstracted parts to the best suitor, and yet it’s the only conceivable way to engage with the devastatingly bleak hook-up culture that’s come to define the modern romantic experience.
Fresh centres on twenty-something Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a bohemian layabout with no real family and one real friend. After interacting with a long line of men offering little and asking for much leaves her cynical, she finally meets a guy that she truly connects with, Steve (Sebastian Stan), who whisks her away for a weekend out of town only to reveal his terminal dark side. Her best friend Mollie (Jonica T. Jibbs) encourages her, at first, to pursue the mysterious new man in her life and to break free of her comfort zone, but inevitably grows suspicious once her communication with Noa starts to wain.
What makes the horror of Fresh so captivating is that any woman could fall victim to this charm when faced with the jaded reality of the contemporary dating scene. Although the cliche already feels tired, the slightest human decency is true comfort in an ever-alienating world of Venmo requests and “u up” texts. It’s disturbingly easy to trust someone who’s the closest thing to a complete stranger simply because there appears to be a unique connection. An organic connection feels so rare that surely, if it’s possible, it’s because both parties are worthy of one another’s trust. Even in the post-feminist worldview of the independent modern woman, if a man has wealth, charm, and good looks, he can really get away with anything if he finds the right woman at the right time.
Cave playfully employs female-led rom-com tropes of the last decade or so in her “Chad” character (Brett Dier). The misdirection of the romantic plot is one of the most hilarious and engaging through-lines and sets a mildly ironic tone that remains consistent in even the film’s most viscerally terrifying moments. This flirtation with tropes leads to some of the film’s most hilarious and unique elements. It may not be the most insightful or original social commentary, but it maintains the fun of horror in a world of spoilers. The two-dimensionality of Chad, the character that acts as Steve’s foil, is either a corny point of weakness for the film or one of the best cinematic misdirections of the past several years. Chad’s so comedically artificial and yet also acts as a scathingly critical satire of a man who the film fails to represent as a convincingly real type of person. Steve is so comparatively “fleshed out” (pun intended) that he remains the charming straight man by default.
Sebastian Stan (Pam & Tommy) gives the performance of a lifetime as Steve. His status as a leading man doesn’t let up when his despicable behaviour’s revealed—in fact, the film hilariously doubles down. The musically led montages that follow him throughout are as lovable as they are unsettling. His deeply perturbed behaviour is cinematically normalised with the sweet and oh-so-simple power of rock n’ roll. Through using the traditional power jock montage, Cave drives home the horrific nature lying just under the surface of Steven’s charisma. This creates a dual reaction in the audience, one that both relates to Steve dancing around his kitchen and is repulsed by comfortably relating to such a strongly contemptible character.
The credits in Fresh roll just as the film’s action reaches the point of no return. This feels to be a lovely homage to Gaspar Noe’s Climax (2018), which similarly placed its credits deep within the narrative. The correlation with music cues is even reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997). Fresh’s credits also incorporate drug-addled aesthetics that not only directly tie into the film’s narrative but are also poignantly reminiscent of the nostalgic flavour that’s defined visual trends for at least a decade. The trippy elliptical font traced by obfuscated light calls to mind the funky branding of trendy and youthful corporations like Unif, a clothing store characterized by the rose-colored repurposing of the fashion of yesteryear. One of the favourite fashion eras to revisit in popular culture seems to be the hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which Fresh uses as an aesthetic influence in the set design as well as the credits. If the credits from Noe’s Climax watched Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966) and decided to be more like that, they would grow up to be the credits of Fresh.
Despite its venture into cliche, Fresh is a fun time capsule. May it be remembered as such.
USA | 2022 | 114 MINUTES | 1.85:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
director: Mimi Cave.
writer: Lauryn Kahn.
starring: Sebastian Stan, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Jonica T. Gibbs, Charlotte Le Bon, Dayo Okeniyi, Andrea Bang & Brett Dier.