TW: Kidnapping, Self-Harm and Violence
(This review includes spoilers!)
Yesterday I watched Fresh (on Disney+) and oh my goodness what a film it is. I mostly like to rewatch TV shows and films to give me that sense of familiarity and comfort, especially when I’m at university and away from home. After having spent the day doing my dissertation, I decided to have a break and have a self-care evening by having a shower and watching a new film relaxing in bed – Yes, I hear you cry, shock and horror, Ellie having a break is unheard of.
I didn’t know anything about this film before I watched it, I only recognised Daisy Edgar-Jones from her break-out TV show Normal People (which I loved) and Sebastian Stan for his role as Bucky in the Marvel franchise. I did think it was beneficial not to know anything about this film, so if you want to watch this film, stop reading this review, go and watch it and come back to this review after.
Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) tells her best friend Mollie, “Hopefully it will make for a good story” as she sits in her car about to head into yet another first date. For Noa, first dates are ick-inducing encounters that are filled with awkward conversations and misogyny. During this phone call with Mollie, Noa tells Mollie how this date sent her message to say she would be paying and that she needs to bring cash – which sets the tone for the date. Everything goes downhill from this point on. Immediately from the beginning of the film, there are hidden clues weaved into the scenes, through the form of eating, teeth, meat and feeling trapped, and this first restaurant scene is a key part in foreshadowing what will happen to Noa – all fixated on the crab in the fish tank at the restaurant. Noa’s date ends with her rude date leaving early, taking home both his and Noa’s uneaten food in a doggie bag, draping his scarf in his food, without offering to pay even half, calling Noa a “stuck-up bitch” because she didn’t dress more ‘feminine’ for him, because of course in a dress she would be much prettier.
Later, Noa wanders through a supermarket and meets Steve (Sebastian Stan) who stands in stark contrast to her previous date. They get chatting and everything seems so much easier with Steve, rather than swiping forever on dating apps. Noa decides to act on her advice from Mollie to be more carefree and after very briefly getting to know each other and sleeping together on the first date, they decide to spend a romantic weekend away together. It is not until the first night of this romantic getaway (about 30 minutes into the film) do we see that Steve is not who Steve says he is, this is made abundantly clear when Steve drugs Noa and she wakes up chained underground.
*Here’s the spoilers*
It turns out that Steve likes to kidnap young women who are alone in every sense of the word – without family and friends. Steve chains these women up and cuts off parts of them to sell to a select group of people that are cannibals. Steve keeps these women chained up because the fresher the meat the better – hence the title Fresh. This links back to when Noa and Steve first eat together. Steve claims he is a vegetarian when in fact he only eats human meat not animal meat.
However, everything changes for Steve when he kidnaps Noa. Despite the fact that Noa has no close family or friends, Mollie has been her best friend of 7 years and when one says ‘Love you’ the other says ‘Love you more’ as a kind of code. So when ‘Noa’ texts Mollie to say she’s away for the weekend with this date, that she’s extending her trip and taking a technology break, Mollie says ‘Ok…Love you’. When ‘Noa’ doesn’t reply with ‘Love you more’ and instead replies with a red heart emoji, that’s the first clue for Mollie that it isn’t actually Noa messaging her. This then sets Mollie on a task of finding Noa with limited information.
Even though I don’t particularly like horror films and I tend of avoid them at all cost, this film was different. On the one hand the film celebrated women, female friendships, female power and independence whilst simultaneously focusing on meat, teeth, horror and giving off severe nausea-inducing gory vibes.
I thought Stan portrayed Steve brilliantly. He enticed you in wanting you to believe he was a charming man and when he revealed his true character, it made you feel guilty for believing this charm. I did think that Mollie’s character was really underdeveloped and thought that she definitely deserved more screen time, since if it wasn’t for her and her research to find Noa things wouldn’t have ended the way they did. I wasn’t really too sure about Noa as a character. Noa seemed a bit distant from the audience and almost bland, especially at the beginning. This is presumably to try and create a contrast between her character at the beginning and at the end of the film, even so I still felt disconnected from her. Despite this, if you let yourself get swept away in the chaotic, disordered and absurdity of this film, you come to recognise the cleverly planned signals and motifs throughout the film. It is ultimately a stomach-churning film that is filled with violence and desire.
I have to admit, I did find myself at the end of the film shouting in an attempt to hep Mollie, Penny and Noa’s fight with Steve. But I was disappointed that after the fight in the kitchen that they left Steve still alive – which I know sounds dodgy but hear me out. In their attempt to flee Steve’s dodgy lair, these three were inevitably slowed down by the fact that they had all undergone surgery against their will by Steve to remove various body parts – Penny’s leg, Mollie’s liver and Noa’s “ass” as Steve puts it. So in order to give them enough time to get away they should have seriously impeded Steve’s ability to get up and chase them. The women just left Steve who despite the fact was wounded severely (if you know you know – Noa’s little action) still had the energy to come after them with a gun in the woods. This was most likely all for dramatic effect, but it just felt forced.
I thoroughly enjoyed the plot twist of Steve having a wife and children. Steve’s wife is an interesting character to consider, the fact that it was revealed she had one leg and even though this wasn’t revealed why – it did make you wonder whether she was somehow involved as part of the cannibals’ ‘meat’ hostage at one point. Near the end of the film, when Steve’s wife and the meat courier arrives at Steve’s dodgy lair, the meat courier addresses Steve’s wife with a title referring to her as the boss. This was again unanswered and leads you to speculate as to whether she was really in charge rather than Steve. This could be a probable interpretation, since she seemed unfazed when she came upon Steve’s dead and mangled body in the woods.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this film and I’d happily give it 4 stars. It’s unlike any I’ve seen before and is certainly refreshing in it’s celebration of women and focus on female friendships. This was Mimi Cave’s debut for directing and the camera shots combined with the storyline and the ever-revealing motif of teeth and meat makes you feel both nauseous and excited to see where the film will go.