Fresh is a gory thriller about online dating that you’ve probably seen circulating TikTok over the last few weeks. Along with dark humour, the film also provides clever commentary on the misogynistic desire and violence that is often inflicted on women’s bodies. If any of that sounds at all interesting to you and you haven’t seen the film yet, I’d highly recommend you give it a watch – especially as there will be spoilers in this review. I initially decided to watch it for the *chef’s kiss* cast, Daisy Edgar Jones and Sebastian Stan, and the acting was indeed phenomenal. I’d consider Fresh one of the best films I’ve seen this year.
Although the film is being advertised as a thriller/horror, don’t let that put you off if you’re not a fan of conventional jump-scares. There are parts which feel like a thriller, as most of the film is building in tension until Noa’s escape, but it’s the cannibalistic and disturbing character of Steve which makes the film scary. Although the promo reveals what seems to be intended as the big twist of the film – cannibalism – the reveal of Steve’s true intentions with Noa are still shocking. He seems like such a charming, funny, and flirtatious character, so could’ve fooled anyone. It is this which makes the film chilling: it could be real.
The first half hour of the film is masterful, illustrating the rather-universal experience of the typical Western woman in the 21st century in a gripping, relatable and visually beautiful sequence. After an awkward date with a walking ‘ick’, Noa walks back to her car and is followed by a man hidden in the shadows. She has her keys positioned in-between her fingers, and seems to expect exactly what we do as viewers – the nightmare women are so wary of when walking the streets. The horror we assume the film is about to display is the harsh reality of the female experience – assault. But, much to everyone’s surprise, the man’s silhouette is only hiding the fact that he is carrying a baby, and he passes Noa with a friendly smile. This sad and relatable scene highlights how, even when there is no imminent and overt danger, you can still feel the weight of the patriarchy and misogyny everyday. As it turns out, Noa should’ve had her guard up later in the film instead of quickly growing attached to Steve, a refreshingly nice date, though this is likely due to the low bar set by the opening ‘ick’ man.
The lighting in this beginning section of the movie is warm, sensuous, and aesthetically pleasing, but after the dramatic title drop when Noa is drugged by Steve, there is a shift in both tone and cinematography. Noa is imprisoned in Steve’s basement, and the atmosphere becomes appropriately harsh and cold to suit this. The dark humour here is done very well, especially Steve’s dance scene as he chops up a leg to package and sell, and his sickly smile and joking manner as he performs surgery on his female victims. His wife, Ann, provides stark contrast to his character, radiating melancholy and vulnerability when she is alone. This dramatic power dynamic is highlighted in the scene where she struggles to get into the shower without her prosthetic leg, which then cuts to Steve’s muscly, strong legs as he goes on a jog. The disparity between the sexes is also particularly foregrounded by the typical sad girl mirror scene (as seen in Black Swan) where Noa and Ann stare at themselves, adjusting their face and hair when out of Steve’s eye. The film bears an overarching tone of sadness that results from trying to appease the male gaze and the harsh patriarchy which Steve symbolises.
When the girls finally escape the house and start to feel safer knowing Steve is dead, Ann becomes the new threat, and, in a strikingly symbolic scene, Noa is forced to kill her with her keys. Unlike the start of the film, Noa’s keys were not grasped in her hand but in a pocket she had to reach for as she was being strangled – she did not anticipate attack from another woman. There is clearly an important discourse throughout Fresh about the idea of girls supporting girls. After all, Mollie and Noa’s strong friendship is the true romance of the film. Therefore, the fact that it is a woman who threatens Noa when she was least expecting it creates more nuance in the story’s feminist perspective. Ann is yet another aspect of the film’s horror, and in this case, her threat stems from the internalised misogyny that encourages her to be on board with Steve’s business. In another scene, Paul, a Black man, flees the house after hearing a gunshot. Despite knowing Mollie was there, unsafe, he prioritises himself, breaking the fourth wall in order to comment on the history of racism in horror films which dictate that he wouldn’t survive if he stayed. The film is intensely immersive due to its persistent tension, so when he drives away, viewers are frustrated that the last ray of hope for Noa, Mollie and Penny seems to have disappeared. The film ultimately leaves us with apprehension towards the online dating world and a determination to avoid meatballs for the foreseeable future.