“Fresh” opens as any typical romantic comedy does: A single, 20-something woman is on a date with a self-righteous, casually sexist man and she just wants to leave. When Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) recaps her date from the night before, her confidence-supplying best friend Mollie (Jonica Gibbs) talks Noa through her concerns. That night, Noa swipes through her dating apps only to run into more men who remind her of that terrible previous date. Just as Noa decides that true love is just not for her, she meets a man named Steve (Sebastian Stan) at the grocery store. His quirky remarks about grapes make her think that maybe he is worth a shot, and so their romance begins.
We’ve all seen this movie, right? Presumably at some point the man is going to say something stupid, causing the woman to break away from him in some sort of tear-induced monologue. And she’s going to go home and still miss him while he prepares ways to win her back. But in the end, all problems will be resolved, and they will embrace in a park in the pouring rain before they go on to live happily ever after. But that isn’t this movie. “Fresh” takes every convention in this formula and distorts it further and further as the narrative progresses. To be very clear, “Fresh” is not a rom-com, even if it really wants you to think so for the first 30 minutes. If the essence of “Fresh” could be quickly summarized, it would be something along the lines of a high-concept combination of “Get Out” and “Silence of the Lambs” hidden under a thinly-veiled guise of a meet-cute-induced romance.
After that veil is lifted and the movie commences its dark and disturbing plot, “Fresh” begins to find its form. While it is difficult to fully explain the nature of the film without giving away all its moments of excitement, there is a shift in Steve’s character that occurs at the expense of Noa. Admittedly, this is a predictable shift to a far less likable character, but that proves to be less of an issue for this story. Because while it’s pretty obvious that Steve has, to put it lightly, a dark side, the nature of that dark side is not obvious at all. The discovery of the depth of Steve’s derangement is what hooks the viewer. In many instances in the film, just when everything seems like it’s going to be a little too cliche and overly predictable, the movie knows exactly what to show you to buy it some extra time.
The way the film manages its tone is an absolute spectacle, switching between truly intense and disturbing scenes to lighthearted absurdism at the snap of a finger, with the audience never losing interest in the process. A fun and whimsical dance montage is immediately followed by Cronenbergian body horror. This transition is disturbing, shocking and brilliant. On top of that, the camerawork significantly adds to this atmosphere, crafting a balance of off-kilter angles and close-ups to build the unsettling air that looms over the entire film.
The two lead performances by Edgar-Jones and Stan are wonderful, perfectly bringing to life the unique and clever screenplay by Lauryn Kahn and stylish directing by Mimi Cave. Stan plays a character that is charming, but also a terrifying sociopath, and he plays it well. From scene to scene, his demeanor can fluidly change from an eccentric, carefree individual to someone you hate with a passion. Edgar-Jones plays a character who faces just about the worst nightmare a person could imagine, and her performance flourishes when the film fixates on the nature of this nightmare. Her subtle emotional shifts boost the rest of the film by adding a humanistic element to its far-fetched concept.
While tears stream down her face as she realizes the situation she finds herself in, the camera closes in on her expression — very much anchoring the film in reality. While the film certainly has its fun with its occasional zaniness and gore, at its core, this is a movie about a man who does everything in his power to manipulate and control women. The movie, in all of its spectacles, never loses sight of this fact and, more importantly, never trivializes it.
“Fresh” maybe shouldn’t be a movie taken completely seriously. It’s a straight-to-Hulu, slightly camp, horror dark comedy. But it’s so well made and its vision is so clearly executed, one has no other choice but to respect it. Yes, it would be ideal if everyone could go and see this on the big screen, not distracted by any outside occurrences, purely absorbing the craft of the film as it was intended to be consumed. But to be completely honest, you could just as easily get an enjoyable, albeit completely different, viewing experience watching the film on a laptop in the comfort of your own home. This is not a movie for everyone, and its gory and unsettling but slightly comedic tone is anything but crowd pleasing. But for anyone who is interested after hearing that description, watching “Fresh” in all of its unique glory is a sight to behold.
Finn Kirkpatrick is a senior staff writer in the arts & culture section. He is a sophomore from Los Angeles, California intending to study Comparative Literature who likes to review movies and other things of that sort.