Fresh (United States, 2022)

March 04, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Fresh Poster

Spoiler Alert: When it comes to a movie like “Fresh,” there’s a legitimate question of what constitutes a spoiler. A lot of it depends on how much a reader knows about the film prior to reading the review. Anyone who has been paying attention won’t be surprised by a key revelation in this review. However, if you want to approach “Fresh” from a (pardon the pun) fresh perspective, it would be best to turn away now. However, if you are aware of the hook/twist, feel free to read on.

The moral of this story is that it’s a bad idea to date anyone you meet in the supermarket produce aisle.

The structure of Fresh is designed to mislead. The movie opens with a looooong prologue. Clocking in at about 30 minutes, it’s intended to fool the viewer into thinking that he/she is watching a romantic melodrama. Excepting a briefly-flashed dick-pic, it might be something made for Lifetime TV. By the time the opening credits roll (at the aforementioned half-hour point), the movie has thoroughly fooled us into believing it’s something it isn’t. That’s when screenwriter Lauryn Kahn and first-time director Mimi Cave pivot into a considerably darker and more gruesome alley. Frothy melodrama gives way to the Grand Guignol.

The most surprising thing about Fresh is that, given the audacity of the concept, the filmmakers pull it off. The contrast between the banal normalcy of an ordinary person’s life and the monstrosity of what’s lurking just beneath the surface is evident not only in the performance of Sebastian Stan but in the camerawork and set design. The movie exists at the intersection of different worlds and genres: rom-com bleeding into horror, the “1% of 1%” exploiting ordinary hard workers. Cave goes overboard with some of the close-ups and edits, but those are stylistic quibbles.

The movie starts with a bad date that eventually leads to a grocery store meet-cute. Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is fed up with dating. The guys she meets are creepy and she dislikes the artificiality of the getting-to-know-you phase. So when she encounters Steve (Sebastian Stan) in the produce section, she doesn’t know what to make of him. He’s funny, witty, and doesn’t push too hard for her phone number (which she gives him after only a little prodding). A first date leads to a second and pretty soon they’re in bed together and planning an impromptu getaway. Noa’s best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs) wonders whether Steve is too good to be true (she deems his lack of Social Media presence to be a “red flag”) but she’s happy for her friend.

During the vacation, Noa learns that Steve has a darker aspect…a much darker aspect. It turns out that he’s the middle man for an elite clientele of uber-wealthy cannibals who like their meat fresh. Since Steve shares their tastes and possesses the surgical skills necessary to butcher human bodies, he has become a key provider. He specializes in young women. Preferring those with no connections (no family, husbands, or steady boyfriends), he charms them, drugs them, and chains them in a secluded location, removing limbs and other body parts as necessary to fill various orders.

Although Fresh contains serious elements and doesn’t skimp on gore (we see several scenes of Steve at work), the tone is that of a black comedy. In some elements, the movie offers what could be perceived as a satirical riff on Fifty Shades of Grey, except in this case the handsome, wealthy man’s secret is a little more intimidating than a little S&M. Although Sebastian Stan doesn’t necessarily resemble Jamie Dornan (he’s a closer match to a young Jack Lord), Daisy Edgar-Jones could be Dakota Johnson’s younger sister.

Character interaction between Noa and Steve represents one of the film’s stronger aspects. Since the movie is mostly presented from Noa’s perspective, we have insight into her feelings and understand when she’s pretending. But Steve is an opaque puzzle. Even when he has a woman chained in his dungeon and has already performed surgery on her, he continues to converse as if they’re simply hanging out. He tries to convince his victims to relax and accept their predicaments. The movie introduces a subplot involving his wife that is too truncated to be effective. (It feels like some of this material, which features French actress Charlotte Le Bon, might have ended up on the cutting room floor.)

Certain plot elements call to mind Jennifer (daughter of David) Lynch’s controversial 1993 feature, Boxing Helena, in which a surgeon amputated first the legs then the arms of the title character (played by a post-Twin Peaks Sherilyn Fenn). There’s more than a little of that going on in Fresh and Cave ensures the movie earns its R-rating by showing some gruesome cutting, albeit with a tongue-in-cheek approach to the way in which these scenes are shot. The movie also has fun with the concept of the male hero arriving in the nick-of-time to save damsels in distress. The closer one looks, the more apparent it is that Fresh doesn’t know the meaning of the term “sacred cow.” I don’t for a moment believe the film has widespread, mainstream appeal (hence the decision of Disney-owned Searchlight Pictures to bypass theatrical distribution in favor of a Hulu premiere) but for those who enjoy stews that mix warped comedy with twisted horror, it hits the spot. And what’s a little cannibalism between friends, after all?

Fresh (United States, 2022)

Director: Mimi Cave
Cast: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan, Jojo T. Gibbs, Andrea Bang, Dayo Okeniyi, Charlotte Le Bon
Screenplay: Lauryn Kahn
Cinematography: Pawel Pogorzelski
Music: Alex Somers
U.S. Distributor: Hulu
Run Time: 1:53
U.S. Release Date: 2022-03-04
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Gore, Profanity, Nudity)
Genre: Horror/Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1