Fresh (2022) – Movie Review

Posted by Eddie Pasa on March 4, 2022 in / No Comments

 

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Fresh, Searchlight PicturesSome might define horror films by the amount of blood and guts shown. Or it might be how many times jump scares make viewers cover their faces in fear. Or watching “some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act who’s always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door,” as Sidney Prescott complained about in Wes Craven’s 1996 film Scream.

But the horror in Fresh hits much closer to home by being all too realistic in its depiction of the threats and dread women experience on a daily basis just for being women. Girls are trained to never walk alone, never leave their drinks at the bar unattended for rapists to poison with roofies, to take their keys out on the way to the car and insert them between their fingers to use as weapons in case a man takes a run at them. Instead of teaching men not to behave this way, we teach women to defend themselves.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Fresh, Searchlight PicturesIt’s this daily horror that stocks Fresh, a film that revels in the amount of unease and disgust it throws at you on several levels. Lauryn Kahn’s screenplay speaks through familiar language – female kidnapping and imprisonment, cannibalism, the moneyed having the worst secrets to hide, the Black friend who “told you so” but you weren’t listening right – but combines all of these tropes into a film about women’s agency slowly chipped away by a patriarchal society who sees them as nothing more than property to be toyed with, fed upon, and, after being completely used up, discarded.

Steve (Sebastian Stan) doesn’t just take women to carve them up and sell their various parts as meat for the rich and weird. He takes them away from their friends, away from being a contributing member of society. Each piece he cuts off represents a facet of their lives taken away by male-inflicted trauma, sold for others to consume, knowingly sustaining these people with women’s pain and suffering.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Fresh, Searchlight PicturesOf course, we don’t see that immediately; we’re drawn into his world through Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), an independent woman tired of the dating scene and about ready to give up on it altogether after a dinner with a “nice guy” goes completely south. Chad (Brett Dier) is comedically and appropriately named, being a self-obsessed, self-serving twat (no, not a “twit” – the term “twat” is totally warranted here) who thinks he’s doing a favor by deigning to go on a date with Noa, being more concerned with his scarf than he is about treating her as a human being.

So when she runs into the self-deprecating, dad-joke telling, aw-shucks Steve at a grocery store and gives him her number for some reason, she’s unexpectedly taken by his demeanor. He backs off when he feels like he’s stepped too far, and he listens instead of trying to sell himself on her. When he takes her on an unexpected road trip weeks into their courtship and they wind up at his spatial home, she’s even more knocked out by his life… until he literally knocks her out with a laced drink.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Fresh, Searchlight PicturesHere’s where Fresh deviates from standard fare like this; what we’ve seen of Steve is exactly who he is from start to finish. He genuinely cares about Noa and he’s everything we’ve seen up to that point. It’s just that he has this horrible job of procuring women for a select group of people who take pleasure in consuming what some people call “long pig.” Even the cuts of meat we see him take and actually mention are part of this film’s metaphor for internalized misogyny, for they are the “prized pieces” by which we judge women’s appearances time and time again.

Noa is reduced to running on survival mode; it seems that the meeker she acts, the less trouble she brings on herself, which seems to be a leitmotif in how women are treated in the public eye. When she does act up and tries to fight back, severe penalties are assessed. Where the film makes its statement is in the fact that Steve doesn’t kill outright; no, each cut has to be as fresh from the body as possible, so his victims are kept alive while their parts are taken from them. They live knowing that they’re being disassembled, piece by piece, until they can no longer serve a purpose. This is what horror means to me: the realization that nothing will ever be all right, that humans have intervened in the course of an innocent life and irreparably changed their path for the worst.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Fresh, Searchlight PicturesAnd it’s not just ingrained misogyny being taken to task with Fresh – other twists and bits of social commentary (especially one bit of plot summed up by the line “BITCHES LIKE YOU ARE THE FUCKING PROBLEM!”) are equally just as pointed and damaging as the throughline carrying the film. Kahn’s script dilutes what seems to be eons of sociological conditioning into a modern-day horror film, and Mimi Cave’s direction is a perfect match for the floor plan Kahn has given her. Cave has a particular panache for imbuing her horror film (with the help of Hereditary cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski) with the soft, warm tones of a romance film, adding a cool layer of unease and displacement that escapes even the most practiced of directors.

The stone and wood looks of Steve’s lair speak to his brutal nature, with rock outcroppings balancing more regimented structures and purpose-built touches, like mattresses recessed precisely into cold stone floorings and wood-slatted sliding doors meant to resemble prison bars. By contrast, Noa’s apartment is messy and undisciplined, reminiscent of a college dorm room and treated like such. When she attempts to halfheartedly clean up when she brings Steve home on their first date, her furtive movements bring back memories of late-night drunken kisses and being in someone’s company until it was time to go to class the next morning.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Fresh, Searchlight PicturesBut Noa’s no college student, and through both intimation and dialogue, we learn she’s experienced trauma in her life she still hasn’t gotten over. There’s a timid shyness that Daisy Edgar-Jones emotes in Noa, making her a woman who doesn’t quite trust herself, second-guessing every decision she makes with no resolve. She’s not a wounded soul and she doesn’t victimize herself, but Edgar-Jones plays Noa like a woman unsure of whether she’s made the correct decision or not. When she slips into her base program of survival, her excellent performance gives us pause, making us wonder if she’s gone around the bend or if she’s trying to get Steve in her pocket as part of an escape plan.

In the balance is Sebastian Stan’s rock-solid portrayal of a man who knows what he wants, how he’s going to get it, and what he’s going to do to once it’s his. He stays away from going cock-diesel psycho with Steve; instead, Stan follows Cave’s direction to be as normal as possible, maybe even becoming a guy who believes in the discovery that Noa represents, especially after she expresses a curiosity about how human flesh tastes. Will she or won’t she? And how will it change both of them?

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Fresh, Searchlight PicturesFresh is not an easy movie to digest (no pun intended). The horror film aspects of it make bold statements, as does every bit of the social commentary, from the opening scene all the way through to the seemingly out-of-nowhere crane shot that interrupts the closing credits. What Lauryn Kahn has done is condense the long struggle for women’s bodily autonomy into a film that delivers on every level. The disgust you might feel doesn’t only come from the gruesome makeup and gore effects that dot the film in shocking places; it might come from understanding what this film is trying to say. In all of these endeavors, Fresh is an unequaled success.

MPA Rating: R for strong and disturbing violent content, some bloody images, language throughout, some sexual content and brief graphic nudity. Contains an extra mid-credits shot. Running time: 114 minutes. Released by Searchlight Pictures. Now streaming on Hulu.

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Eddie Pasa

Eddie is a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). Since starting in 2010 at The Rogers Revue, Eddie has written for Reel Film News (now defunct), co-founded DC Filmdom, and writes occasionally for Gunaxin. When not reviewing movies, he's spending time with his wife and children, repeat-viewing favorites on Blu-Ray, working for rebranding agency Mekanic, or playing acoustic shows and DJing across the DC/MD/VA area. Special thanks go to Jenn Carlson, Moira and Ari Pasa, Viki Nova at City Dock Digital in Annapolis, Mike Parsons, Philip Van Der Vossen, and Dean Rogers.

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