Dating, especially in the modern era, can be hell, as the new horror film Fresh attests. Before five minutes have gone by in the film, its lead character, Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), has gone on one disastrous first date and been sexually harassed by another man while scrolling through her dating app.
Her best friend, Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs), wants Noa to cool it on the dating front, but that’s thrown out the window when Noa meets Steve (Sebastian Stan) at her local grocery store. The meet-cute turns into multiple dates in rapid succession, and it’s not long before the new couple decides to take a weekend trip together.
A flimsy excuse by Steve leads to them staying the first night at his house, where Noa makes an unexpected discovery. The tagline of the film, which says it’s about “one woman’s defiant battle to survive her new boyfriend’s unusual appetites” hints at the twist, but the truth is the film goes much further than most people’s imaginations ever could.
Directed by Mimi Cave and written by Lauryn Kahn, the film toes the line between normality and insanity extremely well. What’s revealed about Steve is horrific and gets even worse as the film goes along, but his character is so even-keeled that it’s terrifyingly easy to get as sucked into his charm as Noa. The juxtaposition continues throughout, making the ghastly moments all the more effective.
The filmmakers constantly keep the audience on their toes, including with the title and credits appearing 33 minutes into the film, a bold and kind of funny choice. Humor is doled out in small measures at various points, not so much that the film becomes a full-on comedy but enough so that it doesn’t affect the tone when a character jokes about something.
The film plays on different horror tropes but transcends most of them. Part of this is that the story is somewhat of a slow burn as Noa tries to get away from Steve. The film’s commentary about modern dating and toxic masculinity makes it a sort of cousin to 2020’s Promising Young Woman, although it pushes even more buttons than that film did, which is saying something.
It’s too bad the film is going directly to Hulu, as one could imagine it playing very well in theaters. The filmmakers do drop the ball on a couple of side plot points toward the end, almost as if connecting parts were edited out accidentally. But the strength of the main story keeps the tension high until the film’s last moments.
Edgar-Jones, appearing in her first big project following her breakout role on Hulu’s Normal People, is ideal for the role. She appears innocent and naïve enough to fall into Steve’s trap but can turn on the strength when needed. Stan, aside from his role Hulu’s Pam & Tommy, has rarely been a lead, but he always makes the most of his opportunities, including here.
There are many moments in Fresh that are hard to stomach, but those who aren’t turned off by such scenes will find a lot to enjoy. There’s a lot of Hulu corporate synergy going on with the film’s casting, but when the two main actors are this good, that’s something easy to forgive.