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Sundance Film Festival Review: ‘Fresh’ Showcases the Bloody Horrors of Modern Dating

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The Sundance Film Festival can sometimes feel like it’s showing audiences the same things over and over again. When that mold is broken, well, that’s when the fest shines brightest. Nothing beats seeing something completely new. The excitement is there and you have the sense that careers are being watched. Sundance obviously is virtual here in 2022, and that’s both good and bad for many reasons, but it is a shame not to be on the ground in Park City for the unveiling of Fresh. Without question, this would have been the talk of the fest. This movie is a thriller that is as fun as it is gory, as satirical as it is violent, and as funny as it is exciting. It’s a home run.

Fresh is a demented delight, through and through. Skewering the modern dating scene while also telling a thriller tale we’ve never seen before, it weaves an enthralling web. Deeply rooted in genre but also feeling somehow above it, all the while never seemingly “above” it, it’s an accomplishment I’ve been just giddy thinking about for the last day. This deserves to be the big crossover hit of the festival this year, without question.

Dating is hell. We all know it. Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) knows it too. She’s been scrolling dating apps and going on bad dates, losing more and more faith in the opposite sex. In fact, when she’s awkwardly yet charmingly hit on by Steve (Sebastian Stan) while looking at cotton candy grapes in the market, skepticism takes a moment before giving way to interest. Once she goes on an actual date with him, she finds they have a lot in common and a hookup ensues. In fact, she begins potentially falling for him, which makes the prospect of a surprise weekend getaway quite intoxicating. There, Noa is planning for romance and to get to know her man a bit better. Steve, however, has something else planned, which involves what can only be described as…unusual appetites.

When their budding relationship takes a turn and Steve’s proclivities come to the forefront, Noa is going to need all of her defiance and intelligence. Luckily, the latter has a soft spot for the former, which both complicates matters and gives her a front row seat to what he’s up to. I wouldn’t dare say more, but it’s gnarly and intriguing in all the ways the film hopes for.

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Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones make quite the pair here. When they’re flirting and in a budding relationship, it’s not just clever, but actually somewhat romantic. Then, when things take a turn, so too does their interactions. Again, I won’t say more, but how this does still manage to mimic dating is quite the accomplishment. Edgar-Jones is a strong heroine, while Stan mixes charm and danger with aplomb. The surprises are truly surprising, in no small part to these two. Supporting players in this one include Jojo T. Gibbs, Charlotte Le Bon, Dayo Okeniyi, and more.

Director Mimi Cave makes a scintillating debut feature here. Along with writer Lauryn Kahn, Cave is having a fiendishly good time with a dark premise. However, what could be bleak instead is fun and stylish, while always having stakes. The satire is on point, the thriller aspects are intense, and the mix of gore and humor works in a big way. Truly, this is a calling card film in the best way, from Cave’s snappy transitions to Kahn’s subtle yet scathing points. Plus, the final shot of Fresh is a real winner.

Fresh is easily the best thing I’ve seen at Sundance (well, through Sundance while at home) so far this year. It’s also just a 2022 highlight in general. Not only am I so eager to see more from Cave (and Kahn), Edgar-Jones is a talent not to sleep on as well. Everything just clicks here in a deeply disturbing yet utterly fun way. I was bowled over by this one and you will be too. When it hits Hulu this year, you’re in for a dark treat!

SCORE: ★★★1/2

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Written by Joey Magidson

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