REVIEW: ‘Fresh’ cuts deep, exposes darker side to dating

Fresh+debuted+on+Hulu+March+4.

Photo by Lily Werner (elizabeth.werner@marquette.edu)

“Fresh” debuted on Hulu March 4.

This story contains spoilers of the new film “Fresh” on Hulu. 

Girl meets boy. Girl and boy like each other. Girl and boy go on a first date. Boy asks girl to go away for the weekend. Girl finds out that boy is a doctor turned psycho meat-selling magnate cannibal.  

Every girl’s worst nightmare. 

“Fresh” brings the appetites of 1970s serial killers into the modern dating era in this romantic comedy turned horror film. 

The film opens up on Noa, a twenty-something woman trying to navigate the challenges of online dating in the 21st century. As she sits in her car waiting for a date that will flop, she aimlessly swipes on a dating app, obviously disinterested. 

Noa is done with online dating culture. But she’s also convinced that you can’t meet anyone in real life anymore. 

And then she takes a trip to her local grocery store, where she meets Steve. 

Among heads of broccoli and cotton candy grapes in the fruit and vegetable aisle, Steve is immediately captivating. Besides being obviously good-looking and a classic cool guy, he’s charismatic. He’s funny. He’s new and exciting. He can make grocery store pick-up lines: “Do you live around here? Because I live on aisle six.” 

They hit it off, but when Steve invites Noa to take a weekend trip to a remote area in the woods with no cellular service, she soon finds out that meeting strangers in person can be just as deadly as meeting strangers online. 

She tells her friend Mollie that he is “too good to be true.” And that’s because he is. 

Early camera shots of mouths chewing and smiling, eyes fluttering and hands rubbing a neck allude to what the focus will be later on: the human body. 

They don’t make it to their vacation destination: Instead, Steve takes her to a house where he keeps her hostage, intending to slowly cut and sell pieces of her body to elitist men. 

Noa soon learns that the knife cuts deep – slowly.

This film explores themes of isolation, trust, the literal objectification and violation of women and the power of the human will. 

Both Sebastian Stan, who plays Steve, and Daisy Edgar-Jones, who plays Noa, bring new, darker performances to their film histories.

Stan is most popularly known for his role as Captain America’s sidekick Bucky Barnes in the “Avengers” and “Captain America” franchises and recently as Motley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee in Hulu’s “Pam & Tommy.”  

But as Steve, Stan is positively sinister.

Throughout the film, Stan embodies mannerisms of infamous serial killers: a young Ted Bundy’s fixation on young single women but with Jeffrey Dahmer’s taste for human flesh. Stan brings another layer of dissociation to his character as a modern psycho killer, as he also integrates a “business bro” mentality, striving to meet the supply and demand of his customers.  

Stan portrays the intrigued “love interest” in one of the early scenes, dazzling Noa and the audience. Like Noa, you want to fall in love with him too. You root for him, wanting to think he’s different and “not like other guys.”

Later, as he sings and dances to the 1980s synthetic pop of Animotion’s “Obsession” while chopping, slicing and packaging meat from a woman’s leg, you find out that you’re right – he’s not like other guys. 

Although seeing Stan in such a drastically different role from his recent performances was very unsettling, his ability to bring a type of humanism to Steve’s character was very intriguing to see. 

There are vulnerable glimpses for Steve, times when he shows mercy to Noa, expresses curiosity in learning more about her and grapples for human connection.

These little moments bring complexity to Steve’s character. His actions are absolutely horrifying, but you can almost take pity on him when you see the way he interacts with Noa toward the end. Steve believes he’s found someone who truly shares his hunger, but learns those aren’t Noa’s intentions. 

Edgar-Jones hits the mark as Noa.

Unlike the well-known introverted, Jane Eyre-esque performance Edgar-Jones brings to Marianne from Hulu’s television adaptation of “Normal People,” she steps into an independent, girlboss “final girl” as Noa. 

The final girl is a classic horror movie trope, and like all final girls, Edgar-Jones plays the game of survival.

She makes Stan and the audience see what she wants them to see; there are moments where she walks the line between being manipulated and succumbing to pure delirium; You don’t know if she’s playing Steve’s game, or if she’s being lured to his side. 

You root for Noa, even at the beginning when you think Steve may actually be too good to be true – like Noa’s best friend Mollie, you’d probably think Steve’s lack of social media was a red flag too. 

Despite your hesitation, you’re with Edgar-Jones the whole way, the hysteria, panic and eventual resolution to escape pulling you in through the screen so that you’re with her in the house. Edgar-Jones brings to focus female resiliency and survivorship. 

While the film begins with the intrigue of finding love in a single person, womanhood, shared strength and a stroke of humor round out “Fresh.” 

A large element of the film that added to its chaos and manic was that the soothing psychedelic sounds of the 1960s and the earnest ballads of the 1980s underlaying very disturbing scenes. Joe Meek & The Blue’s “I Hear A New World” seeps into the scene where Steve drugs Noa, and Peter Cetera’s “Restless Heart” plays in a later scene when Steve operates on Noa. 

This juxtaposition is unsettling.

There were moments I was audibly screaming and cringing at the screen while I was watching. In the scene where Steve packaged up the boxes to be sent to his customers — with photographs, clothing and jewelry piled on pieces of dead women looking like ground beef and flank steak — and another scene where the camera focused on the characters’ faces as they ate dinner, I nearly ran to my bathroom and kneeled into the toilet to throw up.

Just as a curious watcher, I was interested more in Steve’s background and how he got into the business he’s in. He mentions he became a cannibal when he was a teenager, but doesn’t explain how that happened. 

However, the surface level information we receive about Steve could mirror the surface level understanding Noa has about him, ultimately leaving us with the feeling that he’s really still a stranger. 

I give “Fresh” 4.5 out of 5 stars. But if I were to describe “Fresh” in three words, it’d be this: terrifying, grisly and unnerving. 

This story was written by Alexandra Garner. She can be reached at alexandra.garner@marquette.edu