Like its handsome male protagonist, Steve (Sebastian Stan), this smart and taboo-defying social horror draws you in before abruptly bearing its teeth.
Daisy Edgar-Jones is Noa, a young West Coast-er who has no luck with men – mostly because they’re invariably douches who spend dates telling her that she’d look prettier in a dress or sending her dick pics online. Then she meets the charming, witty Steve in the grocery aisle and against her better judgment is soon falling into bed with him. Not all men, right?
Except, in Mimi Cave’s stylish social thriller it is all men. The debut director continues a recent trend for opening credits that come so late you’ll have forgotten that they hadn’t already happened (at 38 minutes they just pip Drive My Car's) to partition that relatable set-up from – excuse the pun – the meat of the film. Soon, Noa finds her trapped in a modernist prison experiencing horrors even Saw’s Jigsaw would draw the line at. Worse, her best friend (Jojo T Gibbs) is the only person who know she’s missing.
The obvious reference in all this is Get Out, and Cave and screenwriter Lauryn Kahn are obviously conscious of the parallels, even leaning into them once or twice. At one point, Noa even stares, whacked-out, into the camera as if stuck in her own private Sunken Place.
Fresh tears into toxic male sexuality and attitudes to women
But just as Get Out offers a lacerating critique of white liberal racism, Fresh tears into toxic male sexuality and attitudes to women – and there’s obviously plenty of room for them both. It's a reckoning of sorts for anyone who has idly referred to a club as a 'meat market' and sticks a finger in the eye of the #NotAllMen brigade. Edgar-Jones is seriously impressive in her first big-screen lead role, toggling seamlessly between vulnerability and toughness in the spirit of all good scream queens, while Stan is horribly persuasive as a man who wields his charm and looks like a weapon.
Cave, too, has real talent behind the camera, subtly seeding the early scenes with an almost imperceptible menace before cranking up the viscera and ratcheting up the unsettling sound design. Gnawing, slurping and chewing have not been this horrifying since Michael Gambon ate a bookshop opener in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.
The only disappointment is an ending that will may draw big cheers from midnight screening crowds for years but feels a little blunt and generic compared with all the inventiveness that precedes it.
Fresh premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.