Fresh is a nearly two-hour movie that doesn’t let you in on its secret for almost a quarter of that time. It starts all quirky and nice with a young woman named Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) navigating the world of modern dating. She’s on all the apps, meets guys who are real arseholes, some of them send her unsolicited dick pics, it’s not looking good. Then, just out at a store, she meets Steve (Sebastian Stan). Steve is funny, kind, and smart, and after a few dates he invites her to go on a trip. There are some red flags, but how bad could he really be? “Worse than you can even imagine” is the answer to that question. And that’s when Fresh gets really, really, really fucked up.
In delaying the truth of Fresh, director Mimi Cave does her best to put the audience in Noa’s shoes. She wants us to trust Steve. We want to trust Steve. We’re all team Noa. If Noa and Steve work out, it’s a proof that storybook romance is still possible in this dark, messed up world. All of which makes the film’s horrific reveal that much more shocking and impactful when it comes. It’s such a big shift, in fact, that if you aren’t prepared for it, it might be too much for you.
I won’t spoil it, though you’d probably guess if you had three chances. Let’s just say that Fresh is not a romance. It’s a full on horror film and a gory one at that. It shares more in common with Eli Roth’s Hostel than almost any other film we can think of, though there are elements of Get Out, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and The Silence of the Lambs throughout. But the script by Lauryn Kahn uses all of those tropes to their advantage, playing with expectations and building anticipation. Some of it pays off as you’d expect, many things do not, but all of it adds up to scare us into believing this shocking story of a woman’s worst dating nightmare could be true. At times it can be a little over the top, but Fresh is a film that is always pushing for maximum reaction, and it never compromises.
Much of that is because of the performances by Edgar-Jones and Stan. Stan we all know. He’s Bucky Barnes. The Winter Soldier. But that stoic mystery he brings to Marvel goes out the door in Fresh, revealing a psychopathic glee that’s both disarming and delightfully disgusting. Edgar-Jones, a relative newcomer, makes Noa into the girl anyone would love to be friends with. Loyal, strong, clever, all things that we see Steve falling for and which, ultimately, might be her way out of a very horrible situation. Together, the two of them have electric chemistry that tiptoes between disturbing and delightful, adding tension and intrigue to every encounter.
Led by those two strong performances, a very tight script by Kahn, and Cave’s dynamic direction, Fresh is horror done right. It’s got a message, it executes it with precision, and it will freak you out on a number of levels.
Fresh had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. No word on a release date.