Fresh takes on the horrors of modern romance are few and far between. Romantic comedies abound, highlighting momentous meetings and grandiose gestures. However, Mimi Cave’s directorial debut, “Fresh,” subverts the genre of the romantic comedy, a meet-cute turned meat-cute — a gruesome exploration of the physical and emotional degradation of a woman bound to a cannibal.
“This was a very different telling of a meeting between two people that starts off one way and obviously becomes something else,” Sebastian Stan said in a roundtable interview with The Daily Californian. “We’re just hoping people can understand the undercurrents and the themes of the movie while going on the journey.”
The stunningly suave Stan and dynamic, effervescent Daisy Edgar-Jones serve as the film’s leading couple, Noa and Steve. What begins as an innocent, spontaneous conversation between the two quickly blossoms into a blooming relationship, one full of playful banter and charm that vastly differs from Noa’s failed dating app endeavors.
Yet, underlying the quixotic romanticization of this relationship is something sinister. Steve is hungry for more than a romantic connection; he longs to use Noa for the packaging and selling of her flesh.
Certainly, “Fresh” presents a complicated journey, detailing the intricacies of a relationship with ever-changing power dynamics. Though Steve certainly has the upper hand over Noa throughout much of “Fresh,” Noa continually strategizes against him, finding ways to manipulate him in order to destabilize his nauseating business.
“The dynamic between them is so nuanced and shifts so subtly,” Edgar-Jones remarked. “Plotting it really was something we spent a lot of time on.”
Stan and Edgar-Jones portray these complex dynamics onscreen with ease. This effortlessness is thanks to each actor’s attention to detail in rehearsing and tracking the progression and breakdown of this twisted relationship. Specifically, Stan researched the tactics of various serial killers before stepping into Steve’s shoes.
“It’s all in the world of establishing trust and that’s what the beginning of the movie is really about,” Stan noted, discussing the humble beginnings of Noa and Steve’s relationship. “It’s just kind of like (Steve’s) trying to find a way to make (Noa) feel safe.”
Like Noa, viewers may similarly trust Steve from the get-go given his wit and charm. Under the direction of Cave, Stan and Edgar-Jones each craft realistic, emotionally raw characters whose relationship charges the film with tension.
“One thing that (Cave) really understood was the way the movie needed to feel and how it should be shot, so that it remains visually engaging even in the slower, more (dialogue heavy) parts,” Stan remarked.
Despite its dark subject matter, “Fresh” shines with vibrancy, uplifted by its intoxicating soundtrack, engaging cinematography and a sprinkling of stirring dance numbers that make viewers momentarily forget the calamitous narrative playing out in front of them on-screen.
“It does start out one way and it has these romantic comedy tendencies, and then halfway through when the rug gets pulled, it sort of becomes another thing,” Stan said. “You don’t lose (Noa and Steve) as characters, you don’t lose their banter … it almost doesn’t stop being a romantic comedy at times.”
“Fresh” walks a fine line between comedic appeal and cannibalistic catastrophe, intersecting various genres without sacrificing the film’s heart. This balancing act splendidly showcases Cave’s virtuosity as a director, and whimsical hilarity still finds its place amid the film’s difficult, socially apt topics.
Edgar-Jones particularly noted that, despite the film’s dark motifs, the cast and crew were able to find joy in the film’s intensity: “We were laughing the whole way through making it,” she said. “Even though obviously there are moments of darkness, you can see that everyone involved is actually having quite a lot of fun. And it does translate I think on-screen too.”
That isn’t to say, however, that “Fresh” takes the dangers of modern dating lightly. The film does not shy away from documenting the grotesque; with fantastic performances from Stan and Edgar-Jones, the film constructs honest, tangible depictions of female oppression that infuse the film with pathos.
“It was important to ground every moment of truth that we possibly could to earn those more surreal moments as the film goes on,” Edgar-Jones stated.
At its core, “Fresh” finds strength in depicting solidarity among women, as Noa and her best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs) along with a young woman named Penny (Andrea Bang) unite to escape Steve’s cannibalistic clutches. In depicting the longevity of female friendship, “Fresh” satisfies audiences’ appetites, despite moments when its disturbing themes are difficult to stomach.