Fresh review: an uneven cannibal horror story skewers the dating game
Modern dating is banal and inhuman. The most common way to do this is via an app, where – much like ordering chicken tenders for delivery – you choose from a variety of options provided by an algorithm. You know the algorithm can fail you, so you just hope it doesn’t lead you to certain death. It’s a boring, terrible way of thinking about people that goes against the fundamental desire at the heart of dating: for someone who’s interested in you, and you in them, to see you as a complete person. What’s more likely is objectification: dating apps encourage users to take each other apart. To meat.
Indie horror film Fresh takes this familiar metaphor to its literal extreme. The debut film from director Mimi Cave and screenwriter Lauryn Kahn follows Noah (Ordinary peopleDaisy Edgar-Jones, a young woman suffering from dating boredom, dates boring, ridiculous men who are free to comment on her appearance, want to chat purely about their own interests, and then insult her when she doesn’t want to. I’m not interested in a second date, much less having sex on the first date.
Steve (Marvel Cinematic Universe Winter Soldier, Sebastian Stan) is different. Noah meets him at the grocery store, the first of the film’s many delicious ironies. He is charming, smart, and not interested in forcing her to have sex. Despite barely knowing him, Noah decides to go on a weekend getaway with Steve after some blissful dates. This turns out to be a mistake when Steve drugs and imprisons her with a plan to keep her alive and slowly sell her body as meat to extremely wealthy clients who have developed a taste for cannibalism.
This dynamic Fresh at her terrifying best: in moments of ambiguity when Noah, in a desperate attempt to survive, begins to believe that Steve is taking his time with her because he likes her. And she encourages him to think she might like him too – even hinting at them should start eating dinner together, even if that dinner includes human flesh.
Cave contrasts these scenes with moments of banal consumption. Other characters eating ordinary, non-cannibal food are filmed with unsettling closeness and deafening sound, highlighting the rips and tears of consumption, how one life turns into nothing more than selfish fuel for another life. At the end of the film, Noah and Steve engage in a hypnotic, dream-like dance that plays more for the camera than for each other, a scene that can be read as a question about the viewer’s own form of consumption – will we post a gif later? Take it out of context and use it to fuel your own ego?
Unfortunately, Fresh casts aside that ambiguity in favor of an otherwise simple survival plot that suffers from an inability to examine its characters too closely. Despite the film’s more devious moments, Steve remains an uncomplicated villain and Noah is largely an uncomplicated victim. Moments that give the impression that the movie could turn into an uncomfortable, gripping locked-room drama give way to the main beats of the thriller. Where Noah tries to escape as her best friend suspects something is wrong. By the end Freshthe movie did nothing more than reiterate what it made clear at the beginning. Dating is hell and women deserve more than being treated like pieces of meat.