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Sundance Review: “FRESH” Has a Stellar Cast, but its Social Commentary Only Cuts Skin-Deep

Written by: Hannah Tran | January 24th, 2022

Mimi Cave, director of FRESH, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

FRESH (Mimi Cave, 2022) 2 out of 4 stars.

FRESH may not be the first movie to delve into the aptly named horrors of modern dating, but the particular horrors at hand here certainly set it apart. Written by Lauryn Kahn (Ibiza) and directed by Mimi Cave (making her feature debut), FRESH is a stylish and gory spectacle about a woman named Noa who decides to go on a weekend getaway with a new lover and, unsurprisingly, discovers he has a terrifying secret. A cross between a classic thriller and an analysis of gender roles, FRESH is a mostly enjoyable take on the former and only a well-meaning attempt at the latter.

What makes this first part work is the totally committed cast. Each actor bounces off each other effortlessly, and this is more impressive because their dynamics shift so quickly. Despite not having much to work with, lead actress Daisy Edgar-Jones (Hulu’s Normal People series) really sells the shock, fear, and strength that her character feels. Sebastian Stan, of Marvel fame, amps the cool, unhinged personality of her new tormenter to the highest possible level.

l-r: Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones appear in FRESH, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

This electric duo alone is enough reason to enjoy the film. However, the story often fails them by giving too much attention to unnecessary characters and subplots. The momentum frequently fizzles out, and the most frustrating part is that there are so many elements that could have clearly been cut from the overstuffed narrative. What’s unfortunate is that some of these elements showed potential for greater suspense, but they mostly end up as only half-baked ideas. In the case of Millie, Noa’s concerned friend who is, ironically, a perfect example of the “token Black friend” archetype, this failure is particularly frustrating.

This is the central weakness of FRESH. It’s unafraid to play with its subject matter, but it’s never brave enough to fully flesh it out. It lacks a sense of mystery as each element is explained directly, but there’s never a moment where it feels like the movie is challenging itself to dig deeper into its own, undeniably interesting, ideas. What’s left is a shallow effort that pads out its pretentious aims with needless scenes rather than being able to either cut these ideas down or build them up.

Daisy Edgar-Jones appears in FRESH, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Although it may not succeed in all its thematic pursuits, FRESH still delivers in its technical ones. Its distinct locations and detailed production design provide the perfect stage for the horrors within. The colors and camerawork creatively use this space, and the well-chosen music and impressive score fill it out masterfully. While far from flawless, FRESH is a fun, wonderfully repulsive watch. Although it may be overlong and ideologically superficial, it’s impossible to call it forgettable.

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Hannah Tran is a film critic and filmmaker from Las Vegas, Nevada. Hannah works as a film screener for the Las Vegas Film Festival and publishes an independent zine focused on highlighing Asian American filmmaking.

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