For anyone who’s delved into the modern online dating scene, they can attest to the horrors it can bring (along with hilarity from time to time). It begs the question if meeting someone in person and doing things the “old fashioned way” truly was better. Hulu’s latest original horror movie Fresh takes this idea and runs with it into incredibly dark territory!
Too Good to be True?
We begin with Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) as she partakes in a cartoonishly bad date with some idiot literally named Chad. It’s not a very subtle sequence, but it successfully conveys in just a few minutes the level of despair Noa has reached with online dating.
Sadly, she’s alone in terms of family, but she does have her best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs) who is really more of a sister to her. While Mollie does feel a bit like the stereotypical sassy black best friend trope, she gets more to do later in the movie, and will probably remind you of a female version of Chris’ friend Rod from Get Out.
Then with a dash of what she perceives to be serendipity, she meets a charming, funny, and dashing surgeon named Steve (Sebastian Stan) while shopping at the grocery store. Tossing her initial caution aside, she moves much faster with him upon feeling a strong connection. And in many ways, he seems like exactly what she’s been looking for.
One of the joys of horror films is that it’s the only genre that will often pretend to be a different one until the horror begins. How many 80s slashers started out as teen comedies before the masked killer started hacking them to pieces? How many haunted house movies begin as family dramas before the internal demons get traded for external supernatural ones.
The movie that perhaps pulled this off best was 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn. For its entire first half, you’d be solidly convinced that it’s a gritty crime thriller before the vampire horror begins. Fresh does something similar by almost convincing you that this is in fact a romantic comedy and even holds off the opening credits until a whopping 33 minutes into the movie, when the narrative takes its hard turn into horror.
Weekend Getaway (Minor Spoilers – You’ve Been Warned)
After agreeing to go on a weekend trip with Steve, Noa wakes up chained to a mattress in what looks like a room from one of the Saw movies, albeit much cleaner. Steven confesses that while he is definitely a surgeon, he uses his skills to chain up women and sell pieces of their flesh to wealthy buyers.
Noa does what she can to try to survive, realizing that Steve did genuinely like her, and it’s in his best interest to keep her alive as long as possible (while only cutting small pieces) because apparently the meat is better fresh. Meanwhile, Mollie realizes something is wrong and starts investigating to try to find her missing friend.
The Meat of the Story
As previously mentioned, Mollie initially comes off as a bit of a tired trope, but she’s a genuinely good private detective and makes smart decisions when it comes to investigating. In fact, all around, characters make smart choices and the result is a cast of characters that we the audience can easily relate to. Even when they make mistakes, they’re understandable ones.
There’s not a single weak link in the cast, but Sebastian Stan really shines as a man who seems to go a long way to justify what he does, but he plays the role with just a hint of madness that you’d expect a man like this to have. He’s clearly having fun with the role, and it’s a welcome new territory for him, especially for those mostly familiar with his brooding performance as Bucky (aka The Winter Soldier) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Despite giving away the “twist” at the 33 minute mark that turns the movie into horror, there are plenty of other legitimately interesting and surprising twists that we won’t dare spoil here. The only real issue is that the final 25 minutes do seem to drag and could have been done in 10 minutes.
Granted, that’s not an issue unique to this movie, as it happens a lot with modern action and horror movies. The climax features characters definitely surviving things longer than they should. Given everything else that works in the movie, it’s a minor nitpick. But it does feel cathartic when it all plays out.
Sliver of Subtext
A lot of recent horror movies have been criticized on the internet for being “too political”. And while there’s nothing wrong with a horror movie (or any movie) infusing some sort of social/political theme into its narrative, some go too far and metaphorically shove the messages down the audiences’ collective throat. At this point, it ceases to be a movie and becomes a sermon, because the message is more important than the story.
That is not at all the case with Fresh. The way that Noa’s literal Chad speaks to her after their date is sadly reminiscent of what a lot of women hear from insecure men whose fragile egos are easy to burst. It’s also no coincidence that Steve’s clients are exclusively men and the people whose meat they consume are exclusively women.
The movie infuses itself with these greater themes of misogyny and women fighting back, but its first and primary objective is to be a creepy and entertaining horror movie. That way the audience can walk away from the movie thinking about those larger ideas, but not feel like it was shoehorned in.
Director Mimi Cave was primarily known for music videos and short films. Fresh is her feature directorial debut and it’s a hell of a movie to start with! It’s funny when it needs to be, creepy when it needs to be, and makes you cringe and cheer exactly when it needs to. And if you’re a sick, twisted horror fan (like me), it must just make you hungry!
What did you think of Fresh? What are some of your favorite cannibal horror movies?!
Fresh is streaming exclusively on Hulu