‘FRESH’ Sundance Review: A stylish horror with one hell of a bite.

Director(s): Mimi Cave

Writer(s): Lauryn Kahn

Cast: Sebastian Stan, Daisy Edgar-Jones

Back in early 2021, I spoke with composer Alex Somers about his film Together, Together. During that interview, I found out he was doing the music for this film, and he promised a dark and weird tone that was something the composer had never done before. From that moment on, my anticipation for this film has been through the roof.

FRESH is the feature length debut from director Mimi Cave. This film tells the story of Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) as she attempts to survive her boyfriend, Steve’s (Sebastian Stan), unusual appetite. This is one of those films that is hard to truly talk about because there is so much that can ruin a viewers experience of the film. I am going to keep my review as spoiler free as possible, but I recommend going into this film knowing the bare minimum about this film.

Over the past few years, horror has managed to find a clever rebranding when coupled with comedy. Films like It, Get Out, The Lighthouse, and even last year’s Malignant have all managed to be equal parts terrifying and humorous to tell its story. With Fresh, Mimi Cave takes this approach and uses it in a way to lure the audience in before really flipping the switch.

This metaphorical reeling in takes a while to get worked up – the title card doesn’t drop until about 40 minutes into the almost 2 hour movie – but by the time it does we are invested in these characters and this story, so far, has felt like a light and breezy budding romance. Noa is finally stepping out of her comfort zone and allowing herself to date, and Steve is her charming knight come to sweep her off her feet and show her a world she has been putting off. Many moments evoke this lighthearted and playful feeling on the surface – including many dancing scenes and a killer soundtrack – but once you go a layer deeper you begin to see and remember the horrors of what is really happening. A magnificent score from Alex Somers – my favorite composer working – is able to expertly evoke feelings of dread and fear within some of these moments.

Daisy Edgar-Jones, who most recently took the world by storm with her incredible performance in Normal People, gets a chance to truly show off her range in this film. She follows in line with recent “women of horror” as she is able to both be out of and in control of any given situation. Sebastian Stan as the films antagonist pulls out one of the most seductively menacing performances of his career. He is a true ball of chaos, and like most of the movie, you never know if you should laugh at his character, or dread him.

One of my favorite things about this film is the fine line director Mimi Cave is able to walk. Given the premise, this could have either turned too grotesque or too comedic to really get its point across. Instead of completely leaning on one or another, Cave expertly uses both of these aspects in a way that allows you to watch without feeling queasy, while understanding you probably should feel that way given what is happening. She is able to flesh out the anxieties and fears of modern dating and while this situation might be a “worst case scenario,” many other realistic and still horrifying ones aren’t entirely out of the realm of possibilities. This film isn’t just a scary one, but an anxious and pulsating one as well. Cave’s style in her direction lends itself well to this film as it is chaotic and messy, but with purpose.

Now, there were some issues with the film. The elongated intro could turn some viewers away who are just waiting to get into the meat of the film, and the finale runs itself a bit too thin and becomes one-note. There is a slight tonal shift in the final act of the film that pivots from the main point Cave was trying to get across and starts heading down a slightly different path. There are also some subplots and some strong metaphorical content that never completely get to see the light of day, and might need repeat viewings to fully appreciate.

Still, director Mimi Cave managed to skillfully toe the line between grotesque and comedic horror. Daisy Edgar-Jones shows her range while Sebastian Stan seductively, menacingly, and frighteningly steals the show. The end is a bit abrupt and some of the film is too stylish for its own good, nevertheless Cave still gets her point across with tension, humor, and one hell of a bite.

Grade: B+

2022 Film Rankings

Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.

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