Fresh Review: A masterful, thrilling debut from Mimi Cave
After hearing all the news about Mimi Cave’s feature directorial debut, Fresh, out of its rave debut at this past Sundance, it’s immensely fulfilling to say that it lives up to its reputation of completely subverting expectations.
At first, Fresh seems like your average date movie as it follows Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) struggling in the modern dating world until she meets a man named Steve (Sebastian Stan) at the grocery store. Noa’s issues with modern dating are truly ones that everyone can kind of relate to. It’s tough for her to get behind the “rules” of dating and often the men she meets on apps genuinely suck. Her experience has been so bad that she’s pretty disillusioned by love and while she’s become accustomed to her lonely lifestyle, she still yearns for that romantic spark everyone wants. It’s what makes meeting someone as charming and charismatic as Steve so remarkable for her and she’s instantly compelled to be vulnerable to him. I mean, it’s tough to blame her since Stan’s performance is a great mix of dorky comedy and genuine care, but there’re small hints of something more about him
That “something more” is truly where Fresh’s magic lies as the swift turn it makes going out of its rom-com first act and into darker, much more disturbing territory is what makes this film absolutely amazing. Truthfully, the best way to enjoy Fresh is to go into it knowing as little as possible, so I’m going to try to delve into what makes Fresh so special without giving away all its dirty little secrets. The sudden turn in Noa discovering a horrifying truth about Steve is handled incredibly well by Cave as she makes this sudden turn feel as shocking and epic as it should. It certainly has the most perfectly timed title reveal and opening credits as it genuinely signifies that the real movie has truly begun.
Fresh’s hard second act turn is truly a woman’s worst nightmare come to life as Steve’s real intentions are horrifying and sickening to see play out. It’s even more disturbing how Steve remains completely calm in explaining the film’s take on modern cannibalism and it’s a testament to how much of a sociopath he is. The turn that Stan makes in his performance from being charming as ever to downright scary is legitimately impressive and remarkably subtle because of the splash of dark comedy Cave gives Steve’s character.
Even though the character has such a hard turn in how you perceive him, Stan doesn’t change too much about how he portrays Steve’s general behavior. He still attempts to deliver some charming lines and be sort of romantic with Noa, but this new perspective on him makes you see his behavior in a chilling new light. There are even some crazy sequences of his true profession in action where Cave makes you feel like you’re in the head of a madman. Stan looks like he’s having a blast on-screen with how he jives with the upbeat music playing over him, but the horrifying nature of Steve’s actions remains. Even with the overly joyful tone of Stan’s performance, Cave really makes these darkly comedic moments still feel gut-wrenching with some of the visuals of Steve’s “handy work” reminding you that you’re watching a horror movie.
Along with Stan’s career-best work, Edgar-Jones is just as incredible with how she slowly gains the strength to turn the tables. As the film makes its hard horror pivot, all the relatability you feel for Noa in the first act makes it feel equally as devastating when Steve’s real nature is uncovered. There’s this genuine sense of hopelessness that’s felt within Noa that’s understandable as her situation is certainly grim and Steve’s sociopathic delivery makes you feel like he’s just inescapable. Even the realization that Noa isn’t alone or the only woman in Steve’s grasp doesn’t help the situation entirely and instead offers chilling unseen horrors.
For a horror story that has a lot of visceral action, it’s incredibly impressive to see Cave take a less showy approach. Although the spiraling words of other victims and the nature of what Steve does is so visceral and disturbing, Cave lets viewers imagine the worst by keeping the most horrifying moments off-camera and even when some cannibalistic moments are on-screen, it’s shown in a way that’s not super gory or grotesque but remains disgusting and impactful. It’ll certainly be tougher to watch anyone make food again. However, none of this deters Noa from turning the tables on Steve and it’s an absolute blast to watch Noa find ways to finally gain an edge.
Edgar-Jones delivers a multi-layered performance that has Noa find ways to get inside Steve’s head without losing herself. It’s painful to see the lengths Noa is forced to go to truly trick Steve, but Edgar-Jones shows a determined grit you instantly get behind and it was makes her make a gruesome choice to finally break free very satisfying and empowering to see. The final act is a pure fight for survival against a monster and its just as bloody and brutal as it should be.
For those craving something truly unexpected, Fresh delivers a shocking and original experience that features some masterful direction from Cave that utilizes the excellently crafted story from Lauryn Kahn to create a bountiful feast for viewers. Stan and Edgar-Jones are legitimately at their best and make Fresh a can’t-miss experience.