After an unfruitful and demoralizing streak on the apps, Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) has finally caught a break. She met a cute guy in the produce section of the grocery store. He was funny and corny, they bantered about grapes, and he asked for her number. On their first date, he ordered an old fashioned, and she ordered a Manhattan with a side of extra cherries, one thing just led to another, and for the first time in her miserable dating life, she is giddy with unfettered optimism.
Her best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs) was all about Noa finally loosening up and getting some until the impromptu weekend with Steve (Sebastian Stan) came up. She diagnosed Noa as “dickmatized,” pointing out that a man with no Instagram presence is sketchy and obviously hiding something. But even Mollie can’t deny that having a doctor who looks strikingly like Sebastian Stan sweep you off your feet is irresistible, “It’s the straight girl fantasy, right?”
It’s not fair. It’s not fair that dating and finding ‘the one’ or whatever has to be so inherently dangerous for women. I don’t know, maybe men do this too. Before you go on a third date, you shoot a friend a quick text, “Hey, bro. I’m going out with Debra again – so excited! Here’s her photo, track my phone, and if you don’t hear from me by 2:00 am, check up on me, k? Thx! Love you!”
Who knows? You might find true love, or your friend may be a big help in an investigation. Keeping your guard up while you’re looking for love is unsustainable and not fun. You can hardly blame Noa for throwing caution to the wind for once.
On the other hand, I have no one to blame but myself. I read the blurb on the Sundance Film Festival 2022 website calling Fresh a “penetrating thriller,” and I saluted all of the red flags – “midnight,” “horror,” “romance” – and I was like, I got this.
I was mistaken.
Mimi Cave, the director, and Lauryn Kahn, the writer, are truly diabolical. They’ve hacked my cultural programming, my predisposition to succumb to romantic comedies, and are using it to give me the deepest of creeps. They know I’m a sucker for an adorable meet-cute and fully take advantage of it. And I couldn’t help but giggle like a middle-school student when Steve asked Noa to dance in her living room after take-out. I’m still all aflutter just thinking about it.
The potency of sexual chemistry between Sebastian Stan’s Steve and Daisy Edgar-Jones’ Noa should be illegal. It undermined my rationality. When Noa noticed that her phone lost reception on their way to Cottage Grove, I said out loud, “I hope we get ten to fifteen more minutes of them being cute before things start breaking bad!” Who says that?
An unsuspecting mark who hasn’t the faintest idea where this movie is going, that’s who says that. The first thirty-or-so minutes of Fresh is an enthusiastic windup so it can slap you in the face with the taboo, and, boy, does it sting. I felt punished for my naivete. I knew Fresh was going to be a twisted horror flick about a date gone awry, but I had not braced myself for the specific and gruesome depravity of Fresh.
Mimi Cave relishes in showing you this uncanny, grotesque portrait of modern dating where men are empowered to feel selective and discerning while women feel scrutinized, diminished, and commodified. Fresh wryly outmaneuvers all of my hard-earned, slasher horror defense mechanisms. I could not detach, disassociate or dehumanize. I could only cross my fingers and hope for catharsis.
Dating is the absolute worst. Not only does it suck to be the person who sends the text, “Hey! It’s date night! If you don’t hear from me, solve my murder,” it sucks to receive that text. It’s my Friday night too. I don’t want to spend the rest of my weekend assembling a Scooby gang.
For all the technological advancements, dating is still a trust-fall for women. Our daisy-chained tether of vigilance is no match for the vast, conspiratorial network in place to keep women exploitable. The satire of Fresh is dead-on accurate; you can’t help but throw up your hands and say this is both ludicrous and probably fact.
The internet age has made us so cognizant of the perverse, that rule 34 has ceased being relegated to the search bar. If you can conceive of it, no matter how heinous, it is someone’s fantasy, and they are realizing it IRL.
My final warning about Fresh is that, no matter how squeamish, you do not look away. It is Mimi Cave’s gut-wrenching testament to those of us who have survived the treacherous gauntlet of dating by the skin of our teeth.
The Sundance Film Festival is online January 20- January 30. Tickets can be purchased and a full lineup can be found here.
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