Fresh isn’t actually all that fresh.
From a narrative perspective, Fresh is a nearly impossible film to write about without beelining straight to spoilers. There’s little actual movie to unpack before director Mimi Cave reveals the film’s horror-comedy conceit, but whether this structuring principle is bug or feature falls pretty squarely into ymmv territory, as the script’s initial feint is indeed compellingly executed. This setup introduces unlucky-in-love Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), putting a pin in online dating after yet another disastrous encounter. But no sooner is she resigned to singledom than she finds herself half of a meet-cute in a grocery store produce section, sharing flirtatious words and her phone number over a bag of cotton candy grapes with the charming Steve (Sebastian Stan). “I didn’t think people met people in real life anymore,” Noa tells her friend Mollie (Jonica T. Gibbs) with mixed excitement and timidness, in a winking line that establishes Fresh’s commitment to playfulness and an essential narrative irony — in other words, the first clue that we won’t be suffering any elevated horror shenanigans, thank you very much.
After a whirlwind few dates, Noa agrees to an out-of-town getaway with Steve, and it’s here that Fresh finally, confidently introduces itself (though we’ll leave specific revelations aside out of respect for the spoiler-averse). Until this point, Noa and Steve are only loosely sketched as characters, offering a few signifiers to establish the character lines viewers are supposed to paint within: Noa is the kind of woman who drinks whiskey-based cocktails and is unconcerned with looking feminine for dates, so we know she can take care of herself; Steve is a handsome doctor who also delivers dad jokes and has just enough of a doofus vibe to make him unintimidating. That’s to say, there’s not a lot of meat on these bones, but it’s all the better for getting to what Cave is really up to, and the film pleasantly accelerates through its perfunctory if still engaged first third, anxious to get to the good stuff.
It’s a considerable bummer, then, that this pacing ends up proving an open drain in an otherwise lively film. There’s certainly no shortage of personality on display, with a handful of truly maniacal images coming in inspired bursts — a few low-angle shakycam shots snaking down a repeated hallway work as gleefully devilish inserts — and a litany of hilarious lines delivered with po-faced deadpan. Sequences of dance are also a repeated motif here, as is an ‘80s-heavy power ballad soundtrack, lending the film a dissonant texture that, while different in the particulars, reminds of something like the unhinged lunacy of Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones. There’s even a late-film sequence in Fresh that manages to capture the precise energy of Matthew Lillard’s “I’m feeling a little woozy here” moment in Scream, which is an apt enough articulation of the tenor Cave seems to be angling for. But all this vigor quickly wanes thanks to the film’s lack of rhythm, its momentum stalling for a good chunk of its second act, horror and comedy both registering in spurts before dissipating into the general enervation of Fresh’s midsection. Its finale manages to reclaim some of its early energy, but even this sequence feels undercooked, swerving too hard into meta horror territory, and losing much of the originality that marked its initial promise. The overall impression is one diminishing returns, the film’s few inspired instances and throwback horror sensibilities subsumed within a mess of filler. Fresh certainly isn’t rotten, but it doesn’t rise much above last night’s leftovers either.
You can currently stream Mimi Cave’s Fresh on Hulu.