Rating: 4 out of 5.

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.

The Ritual

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As a lover of horror movies, I felt well-prepared for the plot of The Ritual: four friends with skeletons in their group closet venture into the Nordic woods for a hiking holiday, where brutality unfolds. The plot itself was nothing new—the forest is always full of dangers for young men stranded outside civilization—but the expert cinematography and stunning performances all-around made for a pleasant surprise. Without giving anything too important away, I can say for certain that The Ritual is a great addition to the genre, and a testament to the chops of director David Bruckner, writer Joe Barton, and stars Rafe Spall and Sam Troughton.

From the first moment, we can see the rifts within our group of heroes. They’ve known each other since university and growing up has pushed some of them apart. Luke, played by Rafe Spall, is our main man, racked with guilt over the death of old friend Rob in a robbery-gone-wrong. Dom (Sam Troughton), the nerdy family man of the group, blames Luke for Rob’s death. Phil takes a background role, staying mostly quiet, while Hutch acts as the voice of reason.

The trip itself is an homage to Rob, the only one who really considered hiking in Sweden fun. In past years, they’d gone on lads’ trips to Ibiza and Amsterdam, but in honor of their late friend, hiking it is. All is well until Dom hurts his leg and the boys decide to take a shortcut back to the lodge… off the trail… through the forest… I’m sure you see where this is going.

The forces of nature and things unseen join forces against the four, stranding them in the dense woods with limited supplies and willpower. Our motley crew is thoroughly spooked by the time they are first attacked and press on through the woods despite a gutted elk hanging in the trees and a spooky house that riddles each with nightmares. Cleverly, Hutch is the first taken out by the antagonist—an unseen force for much of the film. With their level-headed leader gone, the group begins a descent into madness, sped up by fighting, injury, and terrifying discoveries. The plot is well-paced and I was impressed at the flow of the dialogue and dream sequences, often weaving certain imagery or motifs into each scene.

A number of good scares made their way into the final cut, and I have to admit I flinched more than once. The antagonist is terrifying, even before it rears its ugly head, and its minions are creepy enough to at least stay in your head for a few days. I would put myself solidly in the middle of the “Easy to Scare” scale, and the gore and unease of this movie did not put me off. If you’re looking for a good scare and a good story, The Ritual is the film for you. On the surface, it evokes a classic horror premise. Deep down, it’s a story about becoming an adult and facing your fears. The ending isn’t necessarily a twist, but it does leave you satisfied with the character growth and movie lore.