The latest project from stars Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones is an unsettling yet provocative take on modern dating. Edgar-Jones portrays Noa, a young woman struggling to navigate the troubling world of modern dating culture. Fed up with her disappointing experiences on dating apps, she unexpectedly meets Steve (Stan) while grocery shopping. Immediately swept away by his charm, the pair get serious quickly. However, what Noa believes is a romantic weekend getaway with her new guy turns into her worst nightmare when she discovers that reconstructive surgeon Steve isn’t what he says he is – but rather a cannibal who sells his victims’ meat for profit.
It’s hard to blame Noa for falling for Steve’s undeniable charm when we are introduced to her on what could be considered the worst date imaginable – her date eats like an animal, shames Noa for not being traditionally feminine, rudely takes all her leftovers, and is blatantly racist towards their waitress. It’s fair to empathize with Noa for falling into Steve’s grand gestures after this disastrous evening. Thankfully, Noa has her witty and amusing best friend Mollie (terrifically played by Jojo T. Gibbs) to spot Steve’s red flags that Noa has brushed over: no social media, no solid proof that he really is a surgeon, and hardly any pictures of his face to be found. From the audience’s perspective, these red flags are not as evident until the title card hits 30 minutes in, and Steve’s secret is revealed. My only grievance with Mollie is that her character is dangerously close to being the “supportive black best friend” trope. However, Gibbs’ outstanding performance makes Mollie defy the stereotypes. It’s her sharp instincts that help to save Noa in the end.
Director Mimi Cave’s debut full-length feature Fresh is equally funny, in-your-face, and downright repulsive. The surprising twist is sickly fun and engrossing to viewers. What also makes this story so interesting is Steve’s feelings towards Noa. Sure, she might be his next victim, but he looks at her with a hint of sympathy in his eyes as he grants her special privileges his other victims don’t have. Stan’s performance was excellent through and through, as he is fully committed to his character’s sickening tendencies, occasionally laughing his behavior off as if it were the most casual thing in the world. Through Noa’s enchanting smile and natural allure, she convinces Steve to allow her to leave his dungeon to shower and even eat dinner with him. Steve doesn’t realize it yet, but with every infectious smile, she is slowly outsmarting him by the minute.
The irresistibility of Fresh lies in the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The premise of the movie sounds dreadful, but after watching scenes such as Stan’s maniacal, yet hysterical dance performance while chopping up a human leg from his freezer, it becomes evident that this thriller is unlike no other. Another factor about this movie that I can appreciate is the lack of on-screen violence against Steve’s victims. His violence against women is not celebrated nor shown in detail. So if you’re someone who’s squeamish at even the sight of blood, Fresh’s cinematography shows just enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, but not too many gruesome details.
One of the most beguiling components of this film is the character of Ann as a whole,portrayed beautifully by Charlotte Le Bon. Though her backstory is never told directly to the audience, it’s easy to assume that she is a former victim of Steve’s (hence the amputated leg) who mysteriously became his wife. Ann clearly feels no remorse for Steve’s victims, despite being one herself. In the final scene where Noa finally fights back and saves Mollie and Penny, one of the other girls Noa discovers from captivity, I truly was expecting Ann’s character to do a 180 and help save the girls from Steve. But when she fought back against the girls, I had lost all hope for her character. Her disinterest in trying to help the women that Steve has terrorized is apparent and upsetting, considering her history with him.
The best performance in the film arguably comes from Edgar-Jones as Noa. From an audience’s perspective, it was fascinating to watch her character transform from a terrified young woman to a cunning mastermind who would do anything to save herself, including putting on the performance of a lifetime to win over Steve’s trust. She’s surprisingly able to maintain her footing knowing that her life is on the line. Desperate times call for desperate measures, even if that means pretending to enjoy eating human meat with your captor to gain his trust. Her performance is so convincing that it leads the audience to believe that perhaps, even just for a moment, she is just as menacing as Steve.
Overall, Fresh is most definitely a success. This film is an emotional roller coaster that is near-perfectly crafted to be as funny as it is chilling. However, the power in this movie doesn’t entirely stem from the plot; it’s the actors’ performances, the cinematography, and the spine-chilling message behind it all: if you can’t trust the potential love interests you meet in real life, how can we trust the faces we find on dating apps? Fresh is a harrowing take on dating in the 21st century, and I suggest you stream it now on Hulu.