Fresh: Sundance Film Festival Review. By Shani Harris.
Mimi Cave attempts to make a social commentary statement on the dating scene with her directorial debut Fresh, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Normal People star Daisy Edgar-Jones plays a very single twenty-something named Noa. The film unfolds like a modern retelling of Looking for Mr. Goodbar with Noa on a dreadful first date with Chad, portrayed by Jane The Virgin’s Brett Dier. Not only is he a bore as he waxes poetic about how much women have changed due to modern feminism. But he makes things worse by refusing to pay the check, while keeping the leftovers. Noa gives updates on her lackluster dating life to her bisexual best friend Mollie played by Jojo T. Gibbs from Lena Waithe’s Twenties. The two women have an in depth discussion about how banal it is to keep landing on lemons, while swiping left and right on dating apps. Noa is about to give up on love when she makes a grocery trip run to the supermarket.
She has a classic meet cute while bumping into charming Dr. Steve who tells bad jokes and flirts with her in the fresh produce aisle. This encounter inspires the name of the film, but there are some rotten revelations for our unknowing protagonist to discover. Noa is immediately intrigued because Steve seems to check all of her relationship boxes when he asks her out. The pair go on a couple of dates with conversation and tons of chemistry. Noa doesn’t see any red flags as her new potential beau tells her about his profession as a plastic surgeon over drinks and claims to be a vegetarian, while they share a home cooked meal. Her bestie, Jojo, senses that something is not 100% right in “loveland”. This suspicion is sparked because Noa can’t give her any social media profiles to stalk and glean additional personal details about her new paramour. She is completely clueless because Steve has a dark secret about his meatless appetite that doesn’t include eating Beyond Burgers. Noa thinks Steve is salivating over her after they consummate their relationship. She has no idea that his hunger and thirst is due to fantasies of including her on an amuse bouche menu.
Their romance gets fast tracked when Steve suggests that they celebrate their love with an intimate couple’s vacation in a secluded cabin. Her best friend is the only person that she tells about these plans. Jojo begins sleuthing only to be horrified by what she discovers. The tone of the film starts out more lighthearted with jokes and one liners about the trails of finding Mr. Right. But then it careens off a cliff into a Boxing Helena trope by glorifying the grotesque and playing torture with a heavy dose of Stockholm syndrome for laughs. It is bad enough that Noa’s love interest is a Jeffrey Dahmer wannabe. It is even worse that he is monetizing his fetish with paying customers who want trinkets of proof from each of his sadistic conquests.
Sebastian Stan admitted to Indiewire that he worked with a Ted Bundy expert to model his behavior after the famous serial killer.
“One of the things that I found on YouTube was a [story about a] German guy who actually received a letter from a guy who was literally volunteering himself to be eaten. And you’re just like, what?”
It was this aspect of Fresh that tries to downplay the horror for laughs that I find the most unsettling. I was not able to find a shred of entertainment in watching these scenarios as someone who has almost been bludgeoned with a hammer by a random psychotic stranger and narrowly escaped. I was also troubled when hearing the confirmation that Gabby Petito was murdered from a family member. Recent headlines about the Bumble date death of Lauren Smith-Fields and dangerous kidnappings occurring on Hinge dates adds another layer to this disturbing tale.
Manuel Martín Cuenca’s film Cannibal about a serial killer who falls in love with one of his potential victims was nominated for 8 Goya awards. The movie tried to highlight the redemption of the main character by showing that he was not able to literally consume a woman, because he wanted to keep her alive. This flick attempted to show some growth in the character’s ability to connect with the living. Fresh does not offer any redemptive arc and may inspire copy cats who derive pleasure and find thrills in what is depicted. A silly dance sequence that is played with a jovial tone after a traumatizing scene comes off as trite and falls flat.
Fresh will leave a bad taste in your mouth especially if you have a weak stomach. The film is now streaming on Hulu.
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