Image Courtesy of Hulu
Author: Annie Hoang
We could go on for hours listing all the ways that female characters have been butchered (both literally and figuratively) in film, from the manic pixie dream girl trope to the constant fringing of female love interests to fuel the angst of male protagonists. However, horror often turns such tropes upside down in a clever and refreshing manner. From Jennifer’s Body to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the horror genre has no shortage of films and characters that delve into the complex topics of femininity, sexuality, and body image.
Fresh is the newest addition to such films, starring Daisy Edgar Jones as its protagonist, Noa, alongside Sebastian Stan as Steve. Mimi Cave makes her directorial debut, accompanied by a dark-humored script by Lauryn Kahn. The film is chock-full of symbolism that has echoes of its feminist horror predecessors. It manages not to take itself too seriously and maintains a light tone despite tackling the dark premise of a nightmarish scenario for the commodification of women’s bodies. Although Cave doesn’t shy away from gore, some of the film’s most unsettling moments are successful because of how subtly they are executed. Lingering glances and romantic conversations become unnerving due to close-up shots and subversions of eye tracking techniques that create jarring transitions. Jones and Stan both embody their characters brilliantly, shining in moments of intensity and highly entertaining in the pockets of humor. Their chemistry, developing alongside the shifting tensions between their characters, remains electric all throughout, and their performances definitely elevate the story as a whole.
Although it is far from perfect, Fresh is a solid film that tackles topics familiar in both the fictional and non-fictional world. It will no doubt remain entertaining for its less-than-two-hour runtime and the fun conversation that will follow with whoever you watch it with. If you have had a string of bad dates and would enjoy the wildly entertaining experience of watching an extremely irritating and narcissistic man suffer, then Fresh is definitely for you. I wish I could tell you more to convince you to check it out, but it’s best to experience Fresh with as little information as possible.
Let’s just say Steve’s meatballs aren’t the only thing Noa takes a bite into.
WARNING: major spoilers for Fresh ahead!
The first act plays out like your typical rom com. Boy meets girl. Boy asks girl out. Girl agrees despite a recent history of dates with unsavory men. They click. Maybe even fall in love a little. Cue a cute little montage of living room dancing and take-out at the coffee table.
Things take a turn when boy brings girl on a surprise vacation, drugs her, and reveals that he is not, in fact, a doctor, but actually a cannibalistic butcher who sells body parts to the highest bidder.
In short, veering just a little off of the rom-com plot path.
Fresh takes the phrase “dating is a meat market” to a whole new level. About a third of the way into the film, the plot twist of Steve’s true intentions is revealed, and with it comes a mesmerizing title sequence that has you asking more and more questions. Steve’s charm doesn’t drop with the other shoe. Rather, its true nature, along with the echoes of his particular brand of narcissistic scumbag, are revealed. He explains to Noa, with a casual humor that has quickly gone from charming to disturbingly condescending, that she’ll be locked up in his house, just like all the women before her, as he takes her body apart, piece by piece, for himself and other men with similar taste to consume.
The product, of course, is always best fresh after all.
The next time we see Steve, he’s beating the meat…no, not like that. Rest assured, it’s still gross. While chopping up and vacuum sealing a woman’s leg, he dances around the kitchen to 80’s synths with the joyful elation of Tom Cruise’s character in Risky Business when his parents leave him home alone. The bags are carefully encased in cardboard boxes with photos of the woman and a sample of her lacy lingerie, almost like a very expensive and very sadistic Etsy store that includes free stickers with their orders.
The film as a whole is a fairly in-your-face metaphor of how men, especially in the world of fast-paced dating and hook-up culture, tend to fall in love with fantasies of women then become upset and violent when they realize that these projections are false. Even the only decent man in the film, a past boyfriend of Mollie’s, fails to be an initiator of change when he abandons his search and chooses to save himself instead of investigating a gunshot on Steve’s property, which he’s well aware of being Mollie’s last known location.
At its core, Fresh is a tale of resiliency and solidarity between women. Those left standing are only able to do so because they clawed their way there with the help of their fellow survivors. Noa finds strength in the humor and camaraderie of another hostage, Penny, who is on the brink of losing hope. The determination of Noa’s best friend, Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs), to risk her life to save her friend is admirable. Her character, largely due to Gibb’s performance, defies the black-best-friend trope through her heart-warming persistence and quick humor. Steve’s wife, revealed to have a prosthetic leg (likely an indicator of when she first entered Steve’s orbit), fails to fulfill the same duty by aiding Steve in his unsavory pursuits. She’s a representation of how someone can be both victim and perpetrator when they become an accomplice to the violence of vile men, benefiting from the suffering of other women but ultimately remaining trapped in a cycle that oppresses all.
Though it has the typical “yell at your screen cause the main character is an idiot who’s gonna get herself killed” moments, Fresh constantly reminds audiences that none of the women are at fault. It would be easy to blame Noa for being foolish enough to follow a man she barely knows into the middle of nowhere or fault Mollie for walking straight into the lion’s den without a real plan. The truth, though strangely foreign in our society, is simple. Women are in no way responsible for the violence inflicted upon them by men.
Annie Hoang | Oh-oh here she comes, she’s a man-eater! | KXSU Arts and Music Reporter