As a horror fan, a Normal People fan, and someone who loves when filmmakers think outside the box, I felt obligated to watch Fresh. I heard nothing about it before seeing the title card pop up on Hulu but I didn’t need any backstory to convince me to press play. Director Mimi Cave’s debut feature film and I certainly expect to see amazing things from her in the future.
The film throws you for a loop by switching themes and styles entirely almost 30 minutes in, when the main titles begin. Starting off as the sad beginnings of a rom-com, Noa’s regular old life is familiar to any young woman with Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, or their less-notorious conspirators. Loneliness gives way to a series of uncomfortable dates, until you get fed up and delete the app again. But Noa’s cycle is broken by a meet cute in the grocery store. Sebastian Stan plays the charmingly awkward Steve, a successful but down-to-earth plastic surgeon. They have great dates. They have great sex. He’s a catch.
And then they take a weekend trip together. Noa collapses, having been drugged, and the main titles start. Trippy and disorienting, they mark the disturbing descent of this story. Noa and Steve’s playful chemistry lulls the viewer into a false sense of security that comes crashing down when the titles begin, making his betrayal feel real and shocking (even if you sense it coming).
How could this perfect man be so sick and twisted inside? How could he play such a convincing desirable bachelor with thoughts of eating her flesh in his head? Those are just the questions the film wants us to ask. Cave presents a slice of life of the modern American woman: simultaneously tired of men and scared of them. And what are we to them? Meat. The horrors women experience on a daily basis are innumerable and exhausting, and every man wants to carve off a piece of you and chow down — literally or figuratively. But Fresh also proves that what gets us through these terrible times is friendship and solidarity. We women have to stick together.
A few symbolic scenes set this film apart from the rest of genre: Noa seeing the shrine to Steve’s past meals evokes a deep dive into a new fling’s social media—what did his exes look like? What did they do for fun? How similar are we? The narrow escape of not one, not two, but three final girls is a vindication of women’s rights that is not often seen in classic horror. And of course, Noa’s powerful move to end Steve’s reign of terror forever. No more ploying women with surprisingly good sex. No more “meat” for him. Noa gives him a taste of his own medicine and says good riddance, as we all should with subpar men.
All in all, the film is deeply unsettling and a little bit on-the-nose, but that combination makes it a really fun watch.