Sundance 2022: Fresh Is Cannibalistic Fun You’ll Just Devour

Photo courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Modern dating is a nightmare, especially for Fresh’s Noa (War of the Worlds’ Daisy Edgar-Jones). Navigating dating apps, pretentious privileged hipsters, and dangerous lone walks down dark alleys back to her car is enough for anyone to swear off the pursuit of love. While in the throes of complacency after another terrible date, Noa meets Steve (Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s Sebastian Stan) in the grocery store. Funny that there used to be a statistic on a high percentage of people meeting in grocery stores, though I’m sure the data in the age of Covid and Tinder isn’t as large as it used to be.

Steve seems perfect. Funny, respectful, genuine, and with that chiseled jaw, is it any wonder things move fast for the couple? Presenting the red flag of blacking out all social media, a no-go to her friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs), Noa still agrees to go away with Steve for the weekend. Immediately, the audience realizes the situation is dire when Steve detours to his home, and Noa finds she’s unable to get a message to Mollie in the wi-fi-less void. Steve drugs her first drink resulting in her captivity. Once chained to a bed in his basement, Steve intends to strip the meat from her bones to sell on the black market as a niche butcher for high-paying cannibals.  

Honestly, when I initially read the synopsis for Fresh, I thought this would be a romantic comedy where a relationship hits a rough patch. A silly film where Noa would have to decide whether or not to continue seeing Steve after learning of his unique need to eat people. Sort of like a feature-length Santa Clarita Diet. Fresh falls into another category, as you can tell, one that preys on the fears of women meeting strangers. 

Steve and Noa sit in a barroom booth in Fresh
Photo courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Fresh explores the types of games played in relationships. Most people want to present the best versions of themselves while striving for a comfortable atmosphere. Those are the people we aspire to be in life and relationships. That wears off over time as we get into relationships, lowering our guard and getting comfortable with the other person. While there is always the chance of meeting narcissistic people, like Noa’s initial date, any person showing you who they truly are from the start, super-confident and unguarded, is probably a wolf ready to tear you apart. Unguarded people never reveal vulnerabilities, and Steve proves he’s sociopathic.  

In a refractory try and fail maneuver, Noa attempts to escape, which she pays for with a pound of flesh. Realizing she’ll need more than brute force to leave this place, she starts inventing a version of herself like Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne, cool-girl Noa, leading Steve on to establish an advantage. Noa will go as far as she has to for her release, subtly inquiring about Steve’s interests in the culinary art of preparing the food. Noa never goes full Hannibal Lecter or Justine from Raw, but the journey certainly opens her eyes.

Steve has this notion that he can Stockholm syndrome Noa into accepting him and his dietary preferences (Hello? You kidnapped, drugged, and have surgically removed a piece of her). This plot maneuver suggests those dating games molding yourself to what others want from you—the Tinder profile fantasy over someone’s individuality. The film uses Steve’s home life with his wife Ann (Charlotte Le Bon) as proof that Steve has grown weary of reality and prefers the excitement of his fascinating new victim. 

Peter Cetera’s “Restless Heart” or Golden Girls’ theme song “Thank You for Being a Friend” will surely never be heard the same way again once you’ve seen Fresh. The songs now enter a macabre horror compilation with Huey Lewis’ “Hip to Be Square.” The film’s soft-rock soundtrack carries the ominousness of the ordinary becoming sinister in the same way American Psycho did. 

Noa stands in the produce aisle
Image courtesy Searchlight Pictures

A lot of little details in Fresh started reminding me of Ex Machina. For starters, the house was a cold, unfeeling, secluded location. The painting on the wall Noa is momentarily enamored with stands similar in chaos and pattern. And that dance sequence near the end of the film proves to be just as uncomfortable. Noa’s captivity and encouraging cellmate, Penny (Andrea Bang), also exudes V for Vendetta vibes. 

Cannibalism is the final taboo. An act so repugnant is only ethically acceptable in life-or-death scenarios. I found a lot of the decadence in the dinner scenes reminiscent of Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal series. Artfully crafted and deliciously meticulous. A walk-in freezer containing various cuts of meat from a wide array of ethnicities compares the meat industry’s relentless tiers of choice cuts, such as Wagyu or Kobe beef, to the preparation and indulgence of upper-class hedonists. Production design by Jennifer Morden and art direction by Steve Scott and Sarah Stapleton set the atmosphere in these scenes with magnetic brilliance.  

Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan have magnificent chemistry together, and the invigorated dialogue thanks to Lauryn Khan’s script. The writing makes Fresh an absolute delight to watch, and the actors get to wade in a sandbox far away from the ordinary. You can tell Sebastian Stan especially had a good time away from the stoicism of his Bucky Barnes character, as Steve he’s more entrancing and maniacal. Mimi Cave has put together a clever and charming, provocative and disarming—or a different body part—metaphor for dating in the digital age with an emphasis on the chilling statistics of human trafficking.  

Overall, Fresh is great fun, moving between dark-comedy and harrowingly horrifying moments. The last half hour will make or break you. It’s bloody and surprising and does not disappoint.

Fresh premiered at Sundance but is coming to Hulu on March 4. 

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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