Saturday, March 5, 2022

HOTCHKA Movie Review: Fresh

© Searchlight Pictures

Fresh is a gruesome metaphor for dating that tips entirely in a disturbing way

by Jeremy Fogelman

Cast: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan, Jojo T. Gibbs, Andrea Bang, Dayo Okeniyi, Charlotte Le Bon
Rating: ★★

Body horror is a particularly complicated thing to review, because it has that odd note that strikes some people as disgusting to the point of being unable to watch further, but others as a radical, daring take that pushes the envelope in positive, artful ways. In the realm of horror movies, it can be a crutch to make things worse when there’s an iffy script, so the real challenge is how to balance it effectively with the underlying message.

Fresh comes from director Mimi Cave and writer Lauryn Kahn, in Cave’s first feature film. Here we follow city gal Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), who is suffering from terrible online date after online date, with all manner of typical microaggressions and problematic behaviors along the way. She confides her frustration to her black best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbes), who ends up having a decent storyline in the film.

After it seems like nothing will work, Noa is randomly approached by a handsome stranger in the grocery store, a man named Steve (Sebastian Stan) -- and his lines aren’t the worst, even if being approached like this in public is rarely, if ever, appreciated. Noa is charmed despite herself, falling into a quick, whirlwind romance with the mysterious Steve, and it’s all very rom-com for the first thirty minutes or so, but this is a mirage.

Steve convinces Noa to come away with him for a weekend at his remote fancy cabin, far away from the boring old things like good or working cell phone service. The creepy vibes rise and rise until we’re simply in an actual horror movie, one that is absolutely disgusting and troublesome. The specifics may be easy to guess (the marketing of the film makes it pretty easy to figure out, and I certainly got it without much help), but then we’re in the “how do we get out of this?” part of the movie.

Noa is imprisoned for unsavory reasons in the cabin, with only another girl through the wall for company (Andrea Bang), while back home Mollie is suspicious and tries to figure out what’s going on with her friend. Noa decides to try a new charm offensive, and maybe convince Steve (or whatever his real name is) that he could spare her long enough to escape or something else.

© Searchlight Pictures

The movie delves lightly into body horror, sparing us from the truly gruesome moments by use of related or metaphorical imagery, with an underlying message about the nature of terrible dates for women -- that is ultimately the point of it all, underneath the bizarre trappings. The two lead performances are quite good, with Daisy Edgar-Jones able to show all of the emotions between lies and truth in the midst of her terror.

Sebastian Stan is also really good, starting in a more family friendly charming mode before shifting into a more off-putting, deranged manner with ease (reminds me more of his roles in I, Tonya or Pam & Tommy). The other side roles aren’t quite as interestingly written, but at least they provide a bit more than the standard horror movie cliches.

As a horror movie it isn’t that bloody, but it’s particularly wince-inducing at times, so it’s best to consider it as one -- as a horror/thriller though, it’s an interesting one, even if it does get a bit long in the tooth at times. I feel like it will hit a lot of people pretty hard, in the right sorts of ways.

Fresh has a run time of 1 hour 54 minutes and is rated R for strong and disturbing violent content, some bloody images, language throughout, some sexual content and brief graphic nudity. Fresh is streaming exclusively on Hulu.

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