Director: Mimi Cave
Screenwriter: Lauryn Kahn
Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan
Sundance Synopsis: Frustrated by scrolling dating apps only to end up on lame, tedious dates, Noa takes a chance by giving her number to the awkwardly charming Steve after a produce-section meet-cute at the grocery store. During a subsequent date at a local bar, sassy banter gives way to a chemistry-laden hookup, and a smitten Noa dares to hope that she might have actually found a real connection with the dashing cosmetic surgeon. She accepts Steve’s invitation to an impromptu weekend getaway, only to find that her new paramour has been hiding some unusual appetites.
In Mimi Cave’s feature debut, Fresh stands out as the tale women around the world know far too well. There are added fears when it comes to dating if you’re a woman: the fear of being kidnapped, the far-fetched idea of thinking the “nice” guy is a little too nice and might just be a serial killer. You know… thee classic (and perhaps irrational) anxieties that make dating somewhat of a nightmare. But for Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), these nightmares become her reality when she meets the incredibly charming Steve (Sebastian Stan) in this harrowing thriller centered around seduction and desires of the flesh.
Though it’s a familiar story to tell and adds nothing new to the conversations about dating, Cave does a nice job with Fresh thanks to her ability to use women’s bodies as an allegory for physical horror with respect to getting to know someone personally, sexually, and emotionally. And in doing so, she manages to put together a seductive and daring film that is violently thrilling and appropriately gory to capture Noa’s living nightmare.
On the flip side, screenwriter Kahn doesn’t know what to do with Noa’s Black friend Mollie. The script doesn’t make me truly believe that they’re friends because what’s shown was as thin as a needle. Mollie’s (Jojo T. Gibbs) entire existence is to build Noa’s confidence and support her decisions. But the favor never seems to be returned. Gibbs does all she can to elevate this character beyond the “gay Black friend,” but I need filmmakers to understand that this should not have ever been good enough, nor will it ever be moving forward.
Outside of that killer mistake, so much of what we see in Fresh is a good style with performances that elevate this story beyond its formula. And what it lacks in characterization for its Black characters, is put into the wittiness of the script. Additionally, Daisy and Sebastian were able to shine in their depictions of strangers-to-lovers – delivering chilling scenes through their intoxicating relationship and bringing a sense of vulnerability and poise to their roles, respectively.
Mimi Cave’s debut feature is a good start to her career. It’s a blast and unabashed in its delivery of the desires of the flesh theme. This could have easily turned into an enormous, farcical eye-roller during the film’s third act. But thanks to Cave’s lean-in on violence and gore with respect to the treatment of human bodies, audiences everywhere won’t have to worry about leaving this film with an insatiable desire for more… Unless, of course, you care about supporting characters as much as I do.