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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
The Observer

‘Fresh’: Missing all the red flags

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It’s a story of boy meets girl. “Fresh” protagonist Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is jaded from the dating scene: tired of scarf-wearing douchebags, the endless scroll of dating apps and unsolicited nude pictures. She’s about ready to throw in the towel on the dating endeavor when she meets Steve (Sebastian Stan) at her local grocery store.

He tells charmingly awkward jokes and has a good relationship with his sister and his niece, so of course Noa agrees to a date with him. And after a few dates that go well, of course Noa agrees to go on a weekend trip to an unknown location with him. She might not know much about Steve, but he’s a step up from all the dating app creeps. What’s the worst that could happen? 

Unfortunately for Noa, the worst that could happen is more gruesome than anything she could have imagined. 

It’s difficult to discuss this movie without spoiling what Steve’s whole deal is, so if you want to go in completely blind, stop reading, or if you have a bit of a weak stomach, maybe sit this one out. 

Steve is a cannibal. He seduces young women in order to kidnap them and systematically cut off parts of their bodies to eat and sell to his rich cannibal clients. He glibly informs Noa of this after she wakes up from a drug-induced coma chained to the wall of his basement prison. Not exactly an ideal weekend getaway. 

The most effective part of this film is the first half hour leading up to the big reveal. It’s essentially a rom-com played completely straight, with cutesy banter between Noa and Steve and even a spontaneous dance scene during one of their dates. However, thanks to the cinematography and Stan’s excellent performance, you can tell that there’s something a little off about Steve. The beginning of Noa and Steve’s first date is shot with extreme close-ups, adding a disorienting feeling to the whole scene. Stan plays Steve as charming, but in a calculated way. He seems to take pleasure in what he’s about to do to Noa, and even makes little in-jokes to himself about it. When Noa invites him to her apartment and asks if he wants anything to eat, he responds, “No, just you.” The subtle uneasiness of the first half hour really pays off when Steve reveals that he’s a serial killer cannibal in the most nonchalant manner possible.

The humor of the first half hour doesn’t stop after the reveal. The film plays into the utter absurdity of the situation and it’s one of the strongest parts of the film. Stan portrays Steve with such manic energy a la Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho” and it’s very entertaining to watch. We get to witness Steve dance around his kitchen to 80’s synth pop as he cuts up and vacuum seals the meat of a woman’s leg to deliver to his rich customers who get off on eating pretty young women. It’s ridiculous and amazing.

Although I found the film’s satirical humor and Stan’s performance to be entertaining, other aspects of the film weren’t as impactful. The film as a whole was a pretty standard woman’s fantasy where the protagonist gets to punish men who treat them like meat, in this case literally. The social commentary wasn’t egregious by any means, but it wasn’t anything new. Additionally, despite the premise, the film isn’t as gory as one would expect, and honestly, it could’ve used a bit more gruesomeness to make the horror of the situation more effective. Despite how much I enjoyed the comedy, if the film was a bit less tongue-in-cheek, the horror could have been more impactful.

The characters in this film also needed a bit more fleshing out. Noa is charming, but a blank slate for the most part. Her best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs) is a textbook Black best friend archetype whose only purpose is to support the white protagonist with advice and expositional quips. Steve’s wife Ann, who is introduced midway through the film and knows what Steve does, could’ve provided some interesting commentary on women who enable men’s awful actions, but her character isn’t in the film enough to offer anything of note. 

This film was ultimately entertaining due to its interesting premise, strong opening and some stand-out performances, but you’re not super into gory women’s revenge fantasies, it’s easily skippable. 

 

Title: “Fresh”

Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan, Jojo T. Gibbs

Director(s): Mimi Cave

If you like: “Promising Young Woman,” “Hannibal”

Shamrocks: 3 out of 5