Written by Cassie Jo Ochoa
One of the few titles to break out at Sundance this year, Fresh took audiences by storm with its dark humor and genre heart. It’s no surprise that a thriller became one of the most in-demand screenings at the fest. It was spoken about in whispers and in Twitter threads as the one you truly cannot miss. When it got acquired by Searchlight not too long after the festival, you could hear the online buzz radiating from the trailer. Does it hold up to those lofty expectations? Yes, but with a caveat: despite its ambitions, Fresh is a better fit for a sorority party than date night.
Mimi Cave’s feature-length debut is initially cagey about its premise, promising a look at the horrors of Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) as she navigates the treacherous waters of modern dating. Quickly it pivots away from that premise and recenters into a quasi-cautionary tale of ignoring all the pesky red flags an attractive person can throw at you. As Noah falls more in love with a “straight girl’s fantasy come true”, the uncomfortable elements of her new paramour start to reach a boiling point.
On a craftsmanship level, everyone brings their A-game. Director Mimi Cave does an admirable job directing the film, managing to take the script’s early-aughts vibes and turn it into a feature worth investing in. Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski is a key asset in this, giving the film a warmth that only fades in the bleakest moments. Of course, this premise wouldn’t work without a solid male lead and Sebastian Stan steps up to the plate. His Steve floats effortlessly through the tonal changes, capturing the goofy elements of the premise while flipping between being the romantic ideal to a truly terrifying figure. Daisy Edgar-Jones is given a little less to do as Noa, carrying the first half of the film on her shoulders until circumstances take her agency away. If anything, the biggest breakout of the film is Jojo T. Gibbs as Mollie. Please, someone, give her a kick-ass franchise to headline ASAP.
The biggest sin Fresh commits is recycling modern horror storytelling. Perhaps it’s a flaw of its timing or its niche audience, but genre fans will have seen all these tricks before. Sure it’s nice to have a horror film that is rooted firmly in the female perspective, but that messaging doesn’t hide a slapdash climax and unsatisfying ending. Fresh is the perfect film to show someone who is reluctant to embrace horror with open arms, but it’s more of a showcase for everyone involved rather than a solid entry into the new horror canon.