Like a lot of people, Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is tired of the dating game. With the dating apps either setting her up with unsatisfying dates or burying her in a deluge of unsolicited photos of douchebags genitalia, Noa’s hopes of finding Mr Right seem to just be gone and she is about to give up on the entire concept of dating in general and try to enjoy life without love and that’s when she runs into Steve (Sebastian Stan).
Seriously? Steve? – Ed
Steve seems to be everything Noa wants, he’s a snarky attractive man who treats Noa well. They share a sense of humour, they have the same inability to dance and they have good chemistry. Things seem to be working pretty well for them when Steve suggests that they should go on a holiday, they just need to make a little stop at his place in the middle of the woods that happens to be on the way to their final destination and the second you read “place in the middle of the woods” you figured out exactly where this is going, didn’t you?
Sure enough, Steve drugs Noa and puts her in a little cell. Turns out that Steve has a very unorthodox job… he harvests human flesh from women while they’re still alive because it keeps the meat fresh, and he would know because he’s a cannibal and a cannibal’s dealer. He also has feelings for Noa which complicates his job. So begins a battle between Noa’s will to survive and Steve’s need for Noa… either as his girl or as his dinner.
Fresh has a lot of things that make it a darkly enjoyable time, namely that it’s completely committed to the batshit fuckery of its concept. This is the romance novel version of Hostel, full of dark and twisted violence that’s upsettingly hilarious and a strange romance that has shades of Beauty and the Beast in it, which is extra funny since this movie literally has characters saying “Fuck Belle” before being put in a much worse version of her situation… this is going on Disney Plus by the way.
The trick to making Fresh work, when by all rights it shouldn’t, is the unending chemistry between Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones. They really make you believe in this relationship and then, once it’s time to get all Cannibal, keep that weird romantic chemistry going in a horrific setting that makes all their interactions captivating.
Daisy Edgar-Jones is the heart and soul of Fresh, showing strength and grit in every scene. You can see her character always planning, trying to figure out how to get out of this hell she’s found herself in. Then there’s Sebastian who basically just gets to play Patrick Bateman for a solid hour and a half and is reveling in the chance to be this twisted.
I also have to give a special shoutout to Jojo T. Gibbs who plays Noa’s friend Mollie who basically just steals all the focus every time she’s on camera. Can someone give her her own film? Just her, she doesn’t need backup because she’s compelling enough on her own.
Fresh shines the most when it’s focused on Steve and Noa bouncing off each other, that’s when all the biggest laughs and most horrific moments come out and the film feels like it’s really embracing the potential of its concept. Their back and forth just carries Fresh from start to finish, they just have that special kind of chemistry that you can only dream of finding in a cast.
Of course, underneath the chemistry and the cannibalism and the absolute insanity lies this cutting critique of toxic masculinity and rape culture. A film studies class could have a field day pulling out all the hidden meanings behind everything, how a story about a guy taking women’s bodies and selling them to the elite for an obscenely high price is so blunt that I’m stunned they didn’t call the main character Jeffrey or you could investigate how this company only sells women’s meat because that’s what sells (just as a few examples). It’s all just fascinating and impossible to ignore.
Now, even with all this glorious stuff going on, Fresh still has some problems. The editing is not exactly going for subtle, indeed if there’s a stylistic trick Fresh doesn’t attempt then it hasn’t been invented yet. The big thing Fresh does is montages, just montage after montage to the point where it can become almost a sick joke in itself. We finish one montage and before a full line of dialogue is even uttered, here comes another montage. It feels like a crutch and sure it can work pretty well sometimes, but often it just feels like it’s there because they needed to pad out the runtime.
The pacing is just weird in general. I can’t even say that it’s bad, it’s just weird. Entire characters kind of get forgotten for chunks of the film, Mollie at one point vanishes for long enough that I wondered if she was ever going to come back. Moments that should be brisk and quick feel like they’re stretched to the limit. It feels like they’re padding to hit two hours and Fresh is clever enough that it doesn’t need to be that long, it can get all the same info out and be just as horrifying but maybe with 20 minutes cut out of it in order to give it more tension in certain parts where it’s lacking.
On the whole, Fresh is a darkly hilarious and often terrifying little film that plays with heavy topics and uses them as well as one could hope. Sure it has a few clunky moments here and there and some fat that needs trimming but there’s something about this film that’s just so endlessly compelling and fun in a dark twisted way that it’s kind of easy to love despite its flaws. Maybe don’t eat during Fresh, but still a film absolutely worth checking out if you want to see a dark decadent delight.