Dating is hard — especially in today’s day and age of swiping left and right through countless well-curated (and some not so much) profiles of seemingly “perfect” interesting and cool individuals. And then there’s the first date where awkward seems to be the standard, and that “normal” seeming person on paper and in pictures turns out to be a boring dud or just plain obnoxious. However, we’re lucky enough to happen across that one person who seems to check all the boxes every now and again. Could this be the one? At least that’s how it seems until things go left and their odd idiosyncrasies start to show. That’s the premise for Mimi Cave’s entertaining directorial debut Fresh, starring Daisy Edgar Jones and Sebastian Stan.
Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is a young woman who isn’t having much luck on the dating scene. She’s going on one horrible date after another and is almost ready to give up on love and happiness (since we’re essentially programmed from little girls that we need to be with someone to be happy and fulfilled). She thinks all hope is lost until one day she meets a handsomely charming guy (Steve, played by Sebastian Stan) while shopping for groceries. They exchange numbers, and over a couple of dates, the sparks fly as the two connect over shared histories and common interests. Shortly after meeting, Noa is excited by the possibilities for the future as Steve offers to take their relationship to the next level by going away on a weekend trip together. But will that getaway be what either of them had in mind?
Lauryn Kahn’s (Ibiza) script takes us on a rollercoaster ride that is the horrors of modern dating. The awkward dates, the facades, and pretenses, the yearning for something real, and the feeling we get when we finally find someone who actually gets us and isn’t just out here to play games. We’ve all had that one person who seemed like a breath of fresh air until that air became stale and suffocating when they dropped the act and showed their true self. We say we don’t want games and projections, but when we are shown the real person, is it what we expected? Can we handle them? Do we still accept them for who they really are? We’ve all overlooked the red flags (like not having any social media presence in 2022, LOL) and unanswered questions for fear of ending up alone. Dating is a delicate dance of trusting and being cautious.
Kahn’s script is well-paced and really takes us on an unexpected journey and catches you off guard — it has you questioning, “Did I just hear what I think I heard?” Not only does the script do a great job of touching on and commenting on our modern dating fears (they all seem so normal on the outside — just look at so many of our serial killers) and the false sense of security that is built, but also the perverse ways in which men value women and the unfortunate fact that some only see them as a commodity to be devoured.
The film also touches on the women who sometimes enable these men and sometimes themselves venture into territory often only exemplified by men. While the film is entertaining, one can definitely see where this team draws their influences — from Get Out (this one also had an intuitive Black best friend who comes to the rescue) to American Psycho and Killing Eve. Fresh does a great job of toeing the line between horror and pure entertainment with a dash of substance thrown in for good measure.
Fresh wouldn’t be anything without the phenomenal cast and their commitment to their characters. Daisy’s Noa is great as she journeys from a somewhat naive young woman to an emboldened woman who learns to play the game and, in the end, be her own “knight in shining armor.” Her character is nuanced and relatable — all of Kahn’s characters are. They all seem like people you know or could easily run into on the street or even see a bit of yourself in, making the film that much more engaging.
Then there is Sebastian Stan’s Steve. Stan really went for it with this portrayal — his commitment to the character was undeniable. He was charming and funny one moment and creepy, psychotic, and downright frightening the next. And the fact that his character was grounded in the fact that he thought he was “normal” is what really made his character so menacing. The supporting cast of Jojo T. Gibbs (Mollie), Dayo Okeniyi (Paul), and Charlotte Le Bon (Ann) are also great in giving the film brief moments of levity, making you laugh when you should genuinely be scared.
On top of the superb acting, skillful direction and vision (i.e., having the opening credits roll 30 minutes into the film and creating a clear delineation between acts was chef’s kiss), an engaging script, the cinematography, soundtrack, and set design all took this film up yet another notch. Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski (Hereditary, Midsommar) did an excellent job capturing the intimacy of the first date through camera angles and close-ups and capturing the fear females experience when walking alone at night and the horrors of psychopathy and captivity. The set design is immaculate and really gives that ’70s/80s horror film vibe. And to top it off, the soundtrack was on point and really complimented the film and is what really gave it that American Psycho vibe (along with Stan’s performance).
Singing and dancing seem to be a running theme at this year’s Sundance festival. So if you’re looking for an entertaining film grounded in the horrors of reality and modern dating that is well executed and will change the way you look at meat forever, Fresh is just the film for you.