Romcoms are a something of a trial for me, so when something comes along to subvert (or even pervert) the usual tropes and cliches I usually tend to sit up and take notice. There’s been a few over the years with movies such as 500 Days (Of Summer) and Chasing Amy bringing some much needed edge to this most predictable of genres, but Mimi Cave goes somewhat further than your average attempt by fusing aspects of the horror genre into this twisted tale of just how bad dating can go.
However, for best results I suggest you stop reading this review now, take my word that it’s great and get your arse somewhere where you can watch it because the less you know about Fresh, the better it is – in fact, I’ve probably already let too much out of the bag already by mentioning it has horror elements.
Aw crap, I did it again…
Anyway, for those who have seen it (or those who simply abhor surprises), Noa is a young woman who is growing increasingly disillusioned about the online dating scene after her most recent date proves to be something of a passive aggressive dick. When conducting a post mortem of the date afterwards with her best friend Mollie, Noa laments that she’s rapidly losing patience with the whole thing and admits rising frustration with the mounting level of lemons she keeps going on dates with. However, this all changes when she bumps into Steve in a supermarket, a handsome, charming man with great hair, amazing bone structure and not a single red flag to be seen and after exchanging numbers and going for a date (where she sleeps with him), they manage to hit it off quite nicely and after a few more he suggests they go away for a weekend break.
Mollie thinks NO, but Noa thinks yes and so off they go to Steve’s secluded, luxury home where she settles down, has a drink – and passes the fuck out because she’s been drugged.
Upon awakening, Noa finds herself in a precarious predicament as she’s chained up on a hidden section of the house with Steve waiting dutifully in the corner, ready to explain this blood chilling turn of events. It seems that Steve is in the business of selling meat, human meat that is, to consumers wealthy enough to afford such a rare commodity and the fresher it is, the more it costs. Horrified that the man she thought was going to break her bad streak of dates has become far worse than some test in a restaurant casually criticising her dress sense in the form of a really shitty compliment, Noa vows not to be chopped up slowly over a matter of days or weeks so some rich weirdo can chow down on her butt, but the voices of Steven’s other victims coming from the adjoining rooms prove that this might be tougher than you’d think.
Mixing elements from the TV series of Hannibal (stunning architecture, cannibalism, gratuitous food porn) and Jordan Peele’s Get Out (relationships being used to harvest people for their bodies) to make something quite wonderfully unpredictable, Fresh proves to be exactly that – a new take on an old concept: the psycho date. However, instead of drearily trudging through the usual slow burn like other title that employed a similar story, director Cave and scriptwriter Lauren Kahn stir the pot by admirably taking it’s time when arriving to its punchline, not even hinting to any of Steve’s sinister plots at all until Noa passed out drugged and thus finally giving us a title sequence thirty three minutes in. It’s an audacious concept, dropping your story’s biggest twist half and hour in (both technically way too early and oddly late by conventional methods) but it’s a mischievously utterly perfect trick to pull on someone who has no idea what they’re in for. Up to that point it’s standard, perky, humorous drama as our lead character, a woman completely done with dating, muddles through awkward encounters before meeting the perfect guy – but then we all find out together that he’s not Matthew McConaughey from How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, he’s Matthew McConaughey from Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.
From then we head into head fucking cat-and-mouse territory as we watch in fascinated wonder as we find out exactly how Steve’s gruesome side-hustle works while his victims slowly lose their limbs as the rich literally eat the poor. You may counter that this is also well torn territory, but Fresh proves to be smarter than Hostel and while Kathy Bates may have shattered James Cann’s ankle in Misery, she didn’t lop it off, vacuum pack it and send it via first class fucking delivery.
Not only to the nimble footed script and direction keep events moving incredibly smoothly, the performances also sell things immensely with Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan having legitimate chemistry, even when he’s preparing to shear bits off her. She hits an impressive balance of vunerable and strong while he give Steve an air of detached reality as if he can’t quite put his finger on why these women are making his job so hard for him. It’s chilling and amusing in a nicely efficient way that’ll have you blurting “what the fuck” many a time at the screen, but unlike many movies that would resort to some good old torture porn for an easy wince, Fresh wisely chooses to avoid playing that card, confident enough that the very notion is sufficient to freak you out with implied mutilation and sobering body horror.
Another thing that works tremendously well is the sence of sisterhood the movie has; Noa’s relationship with Mollie is rock solid, with her friend constantly going to bat for her under the flag of women should support women (a mantra that’s violently enforced by the brutal and legitimately gripping climax) which carries on as Noa sparks up a rapport with fellow future meal Penny (Kim’s Convenience’s Andrea Bang) or finds notes of comfort left by previous victims left on random magazines.
An overfamilar concept getting a WTF makeover means we get a minor, modern classic that’s tremendously fun to watch that also, refreshingly takes intelligent steps to avoid victim blaming in the realm of the horror/thriller – Noa agrees to go away only after numerous dates pass without incident and is a relatable world away from drawing any judgment from viewers used to seeing idiots dive into iffy situations with both feet.
Simply put, you’ll eat Fresh up….