‘Fresh’ review:  Modern dating gone bad

Written by Lauryn Kahn and co-produced by Adam McKay (Don’t Look Up), Fresh is Cave’s impressive directorial debut

Mimi Cave’s 2022 Sundance hit Fresh is the horror-romantic-comedy that we need right now. Shocking, nail-biting and rebelliously fun, this indie gem currently streaming on Disney+ discards the use of corny horror effects and tired jump scares, and crafts a pure sensory delight — while keeping you on the edge of your seat. Even the title sequence dropping 30 minutes into the film is a twist that we weren’t expecting.

Where the Crawdads Sing’s Daisy Edgar-Jones is Noa in this tale of modern dating gone bad. Noa’s life of dating-app-swiping feels more perfunctory rather than an act borne out of loneliness. Cool and independent, her search for a soulmate seems more a result of society’s pressure and boredom rather than a desperate need for a man in her life.

The film opens with a hilariously bad date with a scarf-wearing narcissist who takes her to a cheap diner and insists on taking home her leftover. This is after criticizing her fashion sense and demanding that she pay in cash.

Her series of horrific dates finally ends when she accidentally meets a guy the old-fashioned way: Offline.

At a grocery store, in the misty vegetable aisle, a doctor named Steve (Sebastian Stan) makes small talk, and the next thing you know, he and Noa are hitting it off.

Of course, we know that Steve is the bad guy in this horror show. The poster and the synopsis are dead giveaways. The thrill and anticipation, then, is how and when Steve will reveal his “unusual appetites” and how Noa will make it out alive.

Written by Lauryn Kahn and co-produced by Adam McKay (Don’t Look Up), Fresh is Cave’s impressive directorial debut. The female director, whose previous works are chiefly music videos, infuses her horror with wit and playfulness, with a chockful of upbeat pop tunes and dancing — with tension simmering underneath.

Cave’s direction has no hint of self-awareness; she’s just having fun with the horror subgenre. For a first-time feature film director, she shows a confident command of the craft, showcasing a visually and narratively stylistic fare.

She employs close-up shots of chewing mouths magnified by superior sound design, nifty editing, and gorgeous camera angles that capture both the dread and the amusement of the proceedings.

Her bad guy, Steve, is not your sinister villain. Charming and vulnerable, he’s your “regular guy” — only with dark, disturbing secrets. He’s a criminal, a murderer, and overall immoral, but not without a sense of humor and impressive entrepreneurial skills.

Fresh is being marketed as a feminist film that dissects female objectification. It’s really not. It’s just pure entertainment. Packed with laugh-out-loud moments and heart-pounding suspense, even non-fans of the subgenre will no doubt find it satisfying.

Fresh is now streaming on Disney+.

4 out of 5 stars

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