Though not without its flaws and questionable tropes, Mimi Cave’s debut feature succeeds as a soft-horror exploration of online dating and modern love.
Fresh is a particularly difficult film to write a spoiler-free review about, though I do urge you to watch it and find out why. I pressed play knowing ‘the twist’ and it still shocked me a dozen times over — a simple twist becomes a double corkscrew, warping further than you ever could have conceived at first glance.
The debut feature of director Mimi Cave, Fresh follows Noa, a twenty-something woman exhausted by dating apps and the eyeroll-worthy men that come with them. Exasperated, she gives up on dating, only to have her interest piqued by the handsome Steve (it seems the film’s Quirky Character Name budget was spent wholly on Noa), a stranger she bumps into in an endearing meet-cute in the fresh produce aisle of her local supermarket. A few days later, after finding that she can’t get him out of her head, she pursues him and ends up biting off much more than she can chew.
The film takes a stab at many hot button issues: unsolicited dick pics, dead-end jobs, society’s constant ‘onlineness’ but manages to put a fresh spin on each and provides some shrewd observations about consumer culture — when you can get almost anything with the click of a mouse, what is out of reach?
Fresh boasts a witty script that enriches the world of the film beyond the story being told. Screenwriter Lauryn Kahn wrote the film with the desire for it to appeal to horror fans and horrorphobics alike and as someone firmly in the second camp, I believe she has succeeded — I watched most of the film without cowering behind my fingers… most of it. Perhaps most importantly, though, Fresh also joins Ex Machina (2014) and Titane (2021) in the ever-growing ‘Disturbing Film With A Funky Dance Scene’ canon.
After the first act the film really finds its pace, perfecting a creeping, better-safe-than-sorry dread
Well-lit visuals and a colour palette of romantic reds and pinks remind the viewer that when you’re wearing rose-tinted glasses, red flags just look like flags, and the film’s sophisticated sound design shines in its use of a muffled underwater effect to reflect Noa’s ebbing concentration in a world of boring dates and chitchat. What really makes this film, however, are the central performances of Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan as Noa and Steve; their chemistry is as ripe as it comes.
Though it remains a strong debut, Fresh has some quite obvious flaws. It has been criticised for leaning into the ‘sassy black friend’ character trope, which contemporary western filmmakers have been trying to distance themselves from after decades of using it as a crutch. Only emphasizing this issue, the film also weaves another interesting black character into the plot only to abandon him in a very unsatisfying way. On a more pernickety note, I wish the film had ended about 15 seconds earlier than it does, as the final shot slightly blunts the pointed atmosphere the film would end in otherwise.
You’ll get the best out of Fresh if you’re patient with it. The story takes a while to pick up and the opening scene is a bit on-the-nose, but if you stick with it you’ll soon find it worthwhile. After the first act the film really finds its pace, perfecting a creeping, better-safe-than-sorry dread that will flip an all too familiar switch in the pit of many female viewers’ stomachs.