Update: FRESH is now streaming on HULU!
Sundance 2022 continues with an interesting and surprising group of horror films with the inclusion of FRESH, the feature directorial debut of Mimi Cave, and writer Lauryn Kahn.
Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones, War of the Worlds) has had it with all the dating apps and the mindless, boring, insulting men she’s met there when a chance encounter with Steve (Sebastian Stan, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) in a grocery story catches her off guard. He is handsome, charming, and actually knows how to flirt without being insulting. She gives him her number, a connection made, and her luck seems to be changing.
Of course, that’s when everything goes wrong. Steve is a man with a lot of secrets, some of them horrifying, others tantalizing. All of them spell trouble for Noa, however.
Cave takes her time with FRESH, the “opening credits” don’t appear until 40 minutes into the film. She allows her audience to sink into the world she created, get comfortable, and actually begin rooting for Noa before she completely rips the rug out from under us. The result is genuine empathy for our heroine, our hope for her love life morphing into our hope for her survival. She and Kahn subvert the damsel-in-distress trope by making Noa smart and capable of defending herself.
Oddly, parts of the film are reminiscent of 1997’s Kiss the Girls. Noa may seem mousy and weak, but she’s so much more.
All of this, of course, hinges on Edgar-Jones’s performance, and the actress proves herself up to the task. In a way, she’s a woman in search of herself, defining who she is. We see her in an exercise class using a punching bag, but it’s clear she’s never been in a real fight in her life. The actress uses all of this to her advantage. She pivots from vulnerability to brutality while never betraying the core of the character. She is guarded, even when seemingly trusting Steve, and peppers in little moments of agency to clue us into her potential.
As her foil, Stan gives a chilling performance. When his intentions are revealed, they almost seem a natural progression. There’s a moment right before, “what the hell” where you think, “Oh, well, of course. That makes sense.” His detachment is telling, but his charisma and charm keep you guessing. It’s the kind of role Stan was born to play. Anyone who has ever doubted his acting chops will want to check out FRESH.
Kudos must also be given to Jojo T. Gibbs (Twenties) who plays Noa’s best friend, Mollie. She is relentless once she decides something has happened to her friend. She will do anything and everything to find her. She does all of this without giving into stereotypes. She is a tough, complex character and earns recognition for her work in the film.
What I loved most about Kahn’s script is that she never shies away from her subject matter. She gives over to and owns it. She knows that, to an extent, it’s off the wall, and she leans into the dark, gallows humor beautifully. In fact, there were moments when I caught myself wondering if I was okay for laughing at what was happening.
That’s when you know it’s a winner.
I’ll admit that I was hesitant about FRESH. I’m not generally a big body horror fan. What was so great about the film is that it gives you just enough to let you know what’s happening without putting every piece of viscera under your nose. It captures your imagination as a viewer in the most unexpected ways, and makes the stomach turn, not by the gore itself, but rather with the aftermath.
Check out filmmaker Mimi Cave’s own thoughts on FRESH below, and keep your eyes peeled for the film when it’s released to a wider audience. You will not be disappointed.