15 June 2024

Sundance 2022 – Film Review – Fresh (2022)

Love cynic Noa is tired of side-stepping douchebag claymores in the minefield of modern dating. She hates the soulless preamble and texting etiquette almost as much as she loves cherries in her Manhattan cocktails.

Her disillusionment is challenged when she meets the charming surgeon Steve in the fresh produce aisle of her local store. He seems to be the perfect pick-me-up for her app-swiping fatigue and she agrees to go on a surprise trip with him.

It’s not long before Steve reveals a taboo-busting secret addiction that will change Noa’s life forever.

This highly entertaining debut picture from director Mimi Cave is a ballsy potboiler that blends modern gender politics with good old-fashioned body horror. Made during the pandemic it’s an economic blast of midnight cinema that uses genre tropes to flesh out its feminist agenda. To some extent, it’s the movie American Mary goes to bed at night thinking it is.

The first third of the film plays out like a dark rom-com before it morphs abruptly into a savage dissection of desire and dispensability. This sudden shift is accompanied by an audacious title drop that typifies the machiavellian spunkiness of Fresh.

What follows is a stomach-churning survival game of Stockholm Syndrome stratagems that barrels along towards an outrageously violent denouement.

The basic formula may be familiar, yet the vibrant chemistry between director, cast, and writer is what elevates Fresh above other similar movies.

Mimi Cave is a very confident debutant with a fine grasp of tone and timing who appears to have made the kind of film she would want to watch herself. Never a bad thing in this genre.

Daisy Edgar-Jones is believable and empathy ringing as the unfortunate Noa and Sebastian Stan is equally tangible as Bret Easton Ellis wet dream Steve. Together they forge a screen partnership of twisted bluffing and desperate time biding that is a joy to watch. Also excellent is Jojo T. Gibbs as Noa’s force of nature best friend and only hope who’s “fuck it” mentality dropped her in this nightmare in the first place.

All of them have a field day with Lauryn Kahn’s sharply observed script that is both the main strength and possible weakness of Fresh. Kahn’s ear for dialogue is impeccable, as is her implementation of pitch-black comedy. Her screenplay ziplines towards lunacy with a cruel menace that would grace the saltiest episodes of Black Mirror. Even the plotholes are fun to step in with a great many nods to excepted genre foibles.

Kahn’s treatment of male toxicity is courageously and controversially complex with an unexpected undercurrent of female gullibility and neediness that may ruffle a few feathers.

However, it is also a tad superficial in terms of motive and could have benefited greatly from a few sightseeing tours on the backstory bus. The central premise is edgy and imaginative, yet it fails to fully establish clear links with the Illuminati connections it frustratingly flirts with.

Visually the film is gorgeous to look at. Pulsating between intimately subtle and in your face garish. Those familiar with the work of Pawel Pogorzelski will expect nothing less, however here he is more clinical and pragmatic than with either Midsommer or Hereditary, and that suits the brisk modernity of Fresh.

That being said, the Grand-Guignol set pieces seem curiously restrained at times when they should be showstopping. Some of the quick cuts and pull aways leave it looking slightly neutered, almost censored. One wonders if this is studio-centric and if there is a meatier director’s cut lying in wait.

Soundtrack wise Fresh is exactly that. Alex Somer lays down a score that underwrites the picture with a proficient atmosphere of foreboding that cements the other elements without suffocating them. It’s a classy piece of work full of the quiet regency associated with those at the top of their game.

Mimi Cave has a rich musical background and does not disappoint with a needle drop curation that could Spotify shame Tarrantino. 80’s synthpop anthems mingle flawlessly with more reflective indie gems and clever covers. Why settle for Lou Reed’s Perfect Day when you could have Duran Duran? She even finds the time to include a homage to the much-loved disco dancing sequence in Ex-Machina. It’s cinema as a musical sandbox at its most playful and it’s exhilarating.

Fresh is a classy midnight movie full of talent and tenacity that is both fun and freaky.

★★★★

Relationship Thriller/ Body Horror/Black Comedy | USA | 2022 | Rated.R| 1h 54 mins |Sundance Film Festival  | Searchlight Pictures| Dir. Mimi Cave| With: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan, Jojo T. Gibbs, Charlotte Le Bon, Andrea Bang, Dayo Okeniyi

FRESH will be served up on Hulu in the U.S. on March 4 and later on Star+ in Latin America and  Disney+.


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