One of the big Sundance darlings finally hit Hulu and has been cooking up a storm since its festival debut earlier this year. The Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan-led Fresh, about a grocery store fling (spoilers?) going way, way, way South, delivers a heaping dish of style and flare, even if the tone doesn’t quite match the subject matter all too well.
The casual relationship begins in the produce section at their local market. Steve, an unassuming and non-threatening male, is about as suspicious as his name suggests. His lackluster and frighteningly unfunny jokes eventually win over the mind of Noa, a romantic debating giving up the dating life after a string of poor dates brought on by online matchmaking apps.
As they grow closer, Noa seems to attach herself to the one person that finds life as dark and unforgiving as she does. As for Steve, he’s got different intentions in mind. Those intentions are for his growing human flesh delivery service, a competitor to HelloFresh and other meal kit startups.
Noa quickly learns that this relationship is not cut out to last after a spiked drink and a cleverly designed title sequence nearly 40 minutes into the film. What is up with movies starting to experiment with title sequences these last few months (check out Drive My Car)?
The rest of the film is a cleverly crafted escape thriller – Noa trying to devise a plan to help her fellow inmates out of the lavish and expensive second home that Steve uses specifically for his captives. The house itself deserves a spot in the “Rich House Mount Rushmore”. When I say this house is exuberant and captivating, I mean it calls to the likes of Ex Machina and Parasite.
Noa learns plenty of important life lessons along the way, including how to army crawl along the ground and how the human flesh tastes if cooked to perfection in a pasta dish. I kid, but this is how the movie is presented in terms of mood and tone. It doesn’t take itself all too seriously, for better or for worse.
Fresh is hoping that the handful of side dishes and drinks can carry the weight of a mixed main course. I’m not sure if I can blame it, considering Mimi Cave’s laser focused direction and cinematography from Pawel Pogorzelski (Midsommar and Hereditary). It’s a very specific and direct piece of filmmaking that almost feels too clean to be a Sundance film. It never loses touch and always feels like the most pointed aspect of the movie.
With its subject matter, its important to land the tone. Unfortunately, I’m not sure Fresh quite gets there in that sense. At times, it feels too light-hearted and sweet given the fact that Noa is being held captive for her flesh and bones. The curated playlist of tracks and sharp color design make for an invigorating watch, but one that doesn’t seem to mesh well with the stakes at hand. The film knows what it wants to portray, and it also knows how it wants to come off. The problem is that these two philosophies don’t go hand in hand.
At times, Fresh does a nice job balancing these obstacles. The flourishing set design, combined with the performances by our two main leads, do enough to keep you invested in the film, even if it feels too out-of-touch with society itself. But the message is about online dating and the possible harms of investing in faces you aren’t too familiar with, which is a grounded idea and problem. It is a sensationalized feature about an issue that feels quite odd to sensationalize about.
It culminates with a third act that is equal parts run-of-the-mill horror film and dumb character decisions. I guess these two go together considering the countless number of scenes that could’ve been avoided if a character would just “double-tap” the antagonist. It pulled me out of the film and made it feel like it was dragging on a few scenes too many.
In its culminating efforts, Fresh is a pointed vision from a filmmaker I’m excited to see grow and develop after a few projects. I wasn’t expecting this to blow me away, but I was hoping for some neat tricks and thrilling fun, and it delivers that. Combined with its great performances, Fresh is a fun Friday night flick. It doesn’t push the boundaries of a genre, but it does fit itself nice and snug within one.
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