Saturday, May 28, 2022

‘Fresh’ Review: A Deliciously Dark and Brilliantly Bizarre Must-Watch

Fresh has finally made its way to Hulu after its Sundance Film Festival premiere earlier this year. Directed by Mimi Cave and written by Lauryn Kahn, Fresh follows the story of Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a woman who’s sick and tired of dating apps and the terrible dates that she’s found herself on. After a meet-cute with an awkwardly charming cosmetic surgeon at a grocery store, Steve (Sebastian Stan), Noa finds herself smitten. However, things quickly go sideways after she accepts his invitation for a weekend getaway and makes a startling discovery about the dark secrets he’s been hiding.

Fresh starts off innocently enough, disguising itself as a lighthearted romantic comedy throughout the course of its lengthy introductory sequence. For viewers that come into the film knowing it’s a thriller, this creates a sense of unease as we wonder if we’re really seeing darkness at the edges of this seemingly happy tale already, or if perhaps we’re just being paranoid — a sensation that Noa herself encounters as well before things go south. This is the first taste of the brilliant, layered storytelling at work in this film, which is meant to portray the struggles and danger that women face in the modern dating scene.

Once the film finally gives way for the title card to flash across the screen a half-hour in, the remaining hour and a half of Fresh is equal parts disturbing and entertaining. This is an impressive and landmark directorial debut for Cave. Paired with Kahn’s script, Cave was able to convey a unique and, well, fresh — no pun intended — tone that clearly sets this film apart from its fellow neighbors that have tackled various angles of the “horrors” of dating time and time again. The movie plays out with a vibrant energy — a result of its script, set pieces, and soundtrack — that contrasts quite effectively with the unpleasant, stomach-churning events that take place. Cave then pulls all of this together with sweeping, artsy camera angles and a brilliant use of light.

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Fresh is, in some ways, Hannibal meets Ex Machina. It’s a bold premise that was tackled in an unconventional manner, choosing to bypass the route to simply being a straightforward gritty thriller that feeds off of the terror of the protagonist. Instead, the way that the film unfolds mirrors the bizarre, provocative, and psychopathic nature of its antagonist, which ultimately serves to heighten audience discomfort while making the story all the more intriguing.

Sebastian Stan in Fresh
Searchlight Pictures

This is, without a doubt, one of Stan’s career best performances thus far. Over the years, Stan has waded his way through various genres in film and television, playing various types of protagonists and darker characters with questionable morals. And while he has no trouble stealing the screen when he’s playing the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s troubled hero Bucky Barnes or the heartthrob in a romantic drama like Monday or Endings, Beginnings, Fresh exemplifies Stan’s affinity for charismatic, twisted darkness. Steve feels reminiscent of his roles in We Have Always Lived in the Castle and more recently, The 355, but in Fresh, Stan is able to fully run the gamut of madness like never before — and it’s terrifying in the best way. Like flipping a switch, Stan seamlessly transitions from the persona of a boyish young doctor fumbling his way through flirting to an incredibly dangerous man with a glint of madness in his eyes. He completely lets himself loose in this role, leaning heavily into the internal chaos of Steve’s twisted mind and allowing it to engulf him.

Following the traction that she gained in the miniseries Normal People, Edgar-Jones has a bright career ahead of her as she continues to branch out with different roles. As Noa, Edgar-Jones carries herself with an air of down-to-earth, innocent relatability that allows audiences to immediately connect with her character. In contrast to the absurd and manic nature of Stan’s character, Edgar-Jones grounds the film and tethers it to reality as she wakes up in a situation that’s a woman’s worst nightmare. And whereas Steve’s psychotic tendencies require Stan to give a whiplash-worthy performance as he moves from one persona to the next, what Edgar-Jones’ does requires more subtlety — something she pulls off well — as Noa carefully works to outsmart him.

Jojo T. Gibbs plays Noa’s best friend Mollie, a standout character who rounds out the entire film from start to finish. Although the film’s focus is first and foremost a cautionary tale about dating, the importance of Noa and Mollie’s friendship and the strength that they lend to one another is its beating heart — along with the humor that the pair is able to lace into what may have otherwise been a pretty gruesome thriller.

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With its talented cast, striking cinematography, engaging approach, and the important, brutally honest underlying commentary on what it’s like to be a woman making her way through the dating scene in this day and age, Fresh is a must-watch.

Fresh is now streaming on Hulu.

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