Mimi Cave’s “Fresh” takes a long-understood truth, the dating world is difficult to navigate, and turns it into a affecting thriller that speaks to these times.
In the digital age, while it may seem easier, swipe left, swipe right, to find love, it’s also tougher to be single and to be looking for someone to be with.
Gone are the days of face-to-face chats. To be in the same room as someone, one can feel a vibe (or lack thereof) and pick up a person’s natural rhythms. On a computer screen or an email (or heaven forbid, a text!), it is harder to size someone up.
Written by Lauryn Kahn, the film finds Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), an ever-hopeful single woman who won’t give up on finding the right guy.
Over her endless searches and meetings with men met through any one of the many dating apps she uses, Noa doesn’t let the annoying parade of idiots, losers, and dick pics halt her quest for a nice, normal, guy.
The opening moments seize you as the director comically takes us through some of Noa’s dating misadventures.
Had this film been made ten years ago, one could have made a case for silly male stereotypes. As this country has taught us over the past decade (and to be fair, for generations), the modern man has lost his mind.
In a deceptively “meet cute” manner, Noa meets Steve (Sebastian Stan) at the grocery store, Noa is immediately charmed by his looks and awkward humor.
After a few probative dates, Noa begins to have real feelings for Steve, who suggests a romantic getaway to the woods of Cottage Grove. Noa, throwing caution to the wind, decides to go. Nothing to worry about with this guy.
Noa’s friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs) is more cautious. Steve has no social media footprint, no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. She worries for the safety of her friend.
This is a thriller, and fans of the genre know going in that Steve is hiding something.
The reveal comes not too long after they meet. I shall not be responsible for spoilers, save to say that where the film goes has a relevancy to today’s headlines.
Khan’s screenplay keeps things on a darkly comedic edge, but it also often becomes too satirical, and so loses its bite occasionally.
The film does get in some sharp jabs, with victim blaming and perceived male dominance taking the hardest hits.
Edgar-Jones is persuasive as Noa. She teeters with giving in to being alone but pulls herself back through personal drive.
The actress immediately endears the character to the audience, and we root for to find love and also, eventually, survive.
Sebastian Stan is handsome enough, but he doesn’t have the strength as an actor to pull of the handsome and dangerous cad role. Stan also stumbles in the few scenes of over-the-top comedy. The actor just can’t sell the character.
The film is as deceptive as Dr. Steve. The beginning has an aura of sweetness until the second half and ramps up the terror when Steve’s hidden agendas are revealed.
As a filmmaker, Grave finds the right intro to lead audiences into the story, fully committing when things get violent.
The film has a pop-music sense to many of its scenes (Animotion’s “Obsession” is used well). Pawel Pogorzelski’s camerawork paints pretty pictures and gives the opening scenes a romantic and lively gloss but turns a harsher and sharper lens once the film kicks into thriller mode, always finding the proper framing for the proper emotion.
While imbalanced, the film does have some inventive tricks up its sleeve. Some will even have its audience questioning Noa’s motives. It is only the unnecessary crutch of comedic moments that occasionally fails it.
As a thriller, “Fresh” has surprises and a good eye for horrific moments that shouldn’t make the squeamish worry.
This is a cautionary tale that is a sometimes unsettling and mostly bracing experience. While uneven, Grave’s film entertains.