A woman dances alongside a man in the outfit he picked out just for her—another way of crafting her into his own personal work of art. She becomes whatever she can provide him: a partner, a victim of his psychopathy, but never wholly herself. Their dancing is flawlessly in sync, but while the man, Steve, thinks he’s growing closer with the woman, Noa, she is actually using this false sense of intimacy against him; in other words, she’s using her own exploitation to save herself. A terrifying take on modern dating, Mimi Cave’s horror-thriller Fresh has drawn mass-media intrigue with its spine-chilling subject matter and addicting viral dance scene.The film’s subject of critique—the consumption of female bodies—takes a horrifyingly literal turn as it approaches the violence and manipulation of the male gaze.
I went into Fresh with only the basic pretense that it was a psychological thriller starring Daisy Edgar-Jones of Normal People and Sebastian Stan of Captain America fame. It’s safe to say I was met with a lot more than I bargained for. Fresh, at its core, tells a story that has been continuously exhausted in Hollywood: girl meets boy, boy manipulates her into falling for him, boy turns out to be a creepy predator of some sort, and girl has to escape the danger. Knowing this, I was excited to see if Mimi Cave would adopt a unique perspective on this storyline in her directorial debut, and she did.
It turns out that Stan’s character Steve is actually a cannibal who makes insane amounts of money feeding fresh female meat to the 1% of the 1%. He traps women with no family and less-than-ideal upbringings—women like Jones’s Noa— in a space that can only be compared to a dungeon. He then kills them, cuts them up in his personal operating room, and prepares their meat in baggies to be delivered to the most deranged members of the elite. Fresh utilizes the literal consumption of female bodies to critique the societal objectification and capitalist commodification of these same bodies. Steve picks out a long, elegant pink dress for Noa to wear, paralleling the way he seasons female flesh for his and other men’s pleasure. Both actions, though different in their severity, exemplify a desire to dress up and control a woman’s body for his own pleasure. To play with his food.
While this narrative is definitely imaginative, the most captivating aspects of the film were the dynamic performances by Jones and Stan, the fast-paced editing, and the, for lack of better words, fresh style of directing that constantly grabbed the audience as one chilling scene rolled in after another. One of the most enthralling scenes came when Jones’s character wakes up handcuffed in the aforementioned dungeon, disbelieving that she had become the victim of every woman’s nightmare. The way she painfully and repeatedly delivers the line “Oh my God” as she attempts to wrap her mind around the situation forces the audience to consider the real horror of the situation from the perspective of a figure that feels so familiar.
Stan also delivered a captivating performance—most notably in the “meat prep” scene— which is sure to become a horror classic. This segment features Steve dancing around the kitchen, merrily singing to Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Heads Will Roll” as he chops and grinds the meat of his female victims. The dichotomy between the violently unhinged reality of prepping the flesh with the upbeat, electro-pop song choice and Steve’s eerie happiness is equally horrifying and enthralling.
Fresh offers the type of experience that makes you feel like you’re sitting at a scuffed up booth of a 24 hour diner drinking coffee at 3 AM. Its straightforward arc and deeply disturbing content make it feel like a sort of dirty liminal space. By the time the ending comes, it feels like almost no time has passed by. If there’s one thing guaranteed besides its future establishment as a horror classic, it’s that Fresh will at least make you feel a little better about the realities of your own dating life.