Review: Horror gets a complete and undoubtedly satisfying reworking in ‘Fresh’
There’s something about a horror film that takes pride in being a horror film. “Fresh,” the debut feature from longtime music video director Mimi Cave, knows this and plays with genre in a way that is devilish and delightful — and never from a place of posturing.
Daisy Edgar-Jones stars as Noa, a woman who has seen the highs and lows (particularly the lows) of dating, from unsolicited pics of guys’ genitalia to indoor-scarf-wearing Chads. When she serendipitously meets the sincere and charming Steve (Sebastian Stan) — in the produce aisle of a grocery store, of all places — things seem almost too good to be true, with her best friend, Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs), dubiously remarking, “It’s a straight girl’s fantasy come true!”
While the film’s first 30 minutes set up the modern horrors of dating for the 30-something set and the expected redemptive narrative arc, “Fresh” upends itself (and its audience) with a sudden tonal shift that resolutely punctures the story world we knew, setting into motion instead a horror film that confidently refreshes generic conventions.
With a sharply energetic script from comedy screenwriter Lauryn Kahn, “Fresh” willfully borrows from both comedy and horror in a way that destabilizes the use of each. It flirts not only with total disruption of audience expectation, but also with the boundaries of obscenity as it lands beat after beat of light-on-its-feet humor within a story world that is in all ways macabre. As too does its visual style, which is just as playful, amorphous and intentional as its script.
While both stylish and mischievous, it also knows when to pull back, allowing for moments of vulnerability and a chance to sit with Steve’s horrific nature. In comparison to a film like “I, Tonya” (coincidentally another Stan vehicle), “Fresh,” despite its consistent boundary-pushing, knows how to use its visual style and tone effectively. Here, violence against women is not reveled in, or embellished by an all-too-gleeful cinematography, but rather it rejects certain forms of visual spectacle (while leaning wholeheartedly into others) in a way that stands with, even cheers for, its women characters.
While we are absolutely witness to the gruesome and grotesque here — this is certainly not a film for the faint of heart — “Fresh” knows exactly when and when not to push into its own lurid nature. As the film’s final act ramps up, it is aware that its own stakes are too high not to invest full-heartedly in its final girls. Just as the film knows we are able to delight in the comic heights of Stan’s fantastically rendered Steve, it recognizes that we would take even more pleasure in the downfall of such a despicable man.
“Fresh,” without a doubt, has a bounty of vision and personality, but it’s also a wonderful study in an almost rabid compartmentalization in terms of its story world, its characters and its viewers. It asks us to laugh in the most hideous of situations and to humanize the inhumane without losing sight of its own call for not just rightful vengeance but collectivity. It doesn’t just offer up the most palatable aspects of horror as a genre; instead, it pushes it to its limits through a complete, and undoubtedly satisfying, reworking.
Rated: R, for strong and disturbing violent content, some bloody images, language throughout, some sexual content and brief graphic nudity
Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Playing: Available March 4 on Hulu
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