Fresh (2022)
Words by Zoë Goetzmann

Fresh (2022)

“I hate like dating, you know? Everything about it,” says Fresh’s heroine Noa, played by Daisy Edgar-Jones. As a single girl currently living in London, I can completely relate. In the words of Carrie Bradshaw circa late 1990s, us single girls are living in the ‘city of un-innocence’; endless swipes, never-ending fuck boys, dates with zero chemistry and where happy endings seem like a myth. But such modern dating woes all seem idyllic compared to being entrapped by a cannibalistic killer.

As a girl who grew up on a diet of Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers, John Hughes, and Reese Witherspoon films, I am a sucker for a traditional love story. As far as my own dating life is concerned, my personal expectations are set at the highest level and my fairytale fantasies have yet to be met by ‘the one.’ However, I will say that my first kiss did happen in a Drew Barrymore, Never Been Kissed (1999)-esque scenario where the whole world seemed to stop and melt away. This is the one ‘dating’ situation which will remain ingrained in my memory forever because of how magic it felt …

Fresh (2022) directed by Mimi Cave, written by Lauryn Kahn and co-produced by Adam McKay (Don’t Look Up, 2021) follows Noa as she struggles to deal with modern dating and hook-up culture. The film begins with a familiar date-like scenario between Noa and ‘Chad’ [typical douche-bag name, right?] played by Brett Dier. Every woman would be able to recognize the obvious red flags: critiquing her clothing (“you would just look great in a dress”), being rude (and borderline racist) to the restaurant server, becoming angry and dropping his ‘nice boy’ façade at the end of the date once she rejects him.

Enter Steve played by Sebastian Stan, who meets Noa in a cliché ‘meet-cute’ grocery store scene. The two characters go on a date, spend the night together, and fall for each other in a seemingly instantaneous way. After spending a few ultra-idealised, rom-com-esque days together, Steve invites Noa on a trip to his ‘cabin’ in the woods. Although Noa tells her friend Mollie (played by Jojo T. Gibbs) who she is dating and texts her where she is going, she soon finds herself in every girl’s worst dating horror nightmare: drugged and held captive in a cell by Steve who is both a cannibal and a human trafficker – selling women’s ‘meat’ to high-paying clients.

I would describe this film as one part Get Out (2017), one part Promising Young Woman (2020), two parts The Silence of the Lambs (1991) mixed with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991), for its semi Stockholm Syndrome qualities. The social thriller Fresh (2022) sheds a much-needed light on sexism, toxic masculinity as well as the dangers surrounding dating, online dating, and female sex trafficking – creating a type of contemporary parable for the modern girl; told through a classic horror flick about a man who likes to cut up and eat women.

In a real-life dating scenario, we - as women – are constantly faced and plagued with the following questions: What does he want? Why does he like me? What is he after? Is he using me? Or worse, is he going to murder me?

From my own dating life and perspective, I can vouch with some certainty that anytime a girl receives a text, DM or a message from a potential love interest, this text message is investigated thoroughly by all her close friends. Group messages are created to strategise and analyse the tone and punctuation in any subsequent messages from a potential partner. The qualms of living as a woman today are infinite, tireless, and exhausting: from constantly checking behind our backs every time we walk outside, cyber-stalking a possible date (this movie definitely made me rethink the idea of the ‘offline boyfriend’ and men with zero social media presence - which recently became hyped up in social media due to Bella Hadid’s boyfriend), the paranoid fear of being assaulted (in public or private), being abducted, to the act of walking alone hurriedly to your car - at night - whilst holding your keys in your hand as a make-shift weapon (an experience enacted by Noa at the beginning of the film).

Towards the end of the film, Noa employs her own intuitive savvy-ness to subvert the ‘conventional,’ ‘male-gazey’ version of femininity to save her own life. In a scene which shows Noa looking at a pile of ‘glossies’ or women’s magazines that Steve has left in her cell, her eyes glance towards obvious sexist media headlines: “10 Ways to Make Him Yours” or “Smile More. Trust Us!’ Slipping on an incredibly feminine pink-bowed satin dress (gifted to her by  her captor), she lays the subtle groundwork for her ultimate getaway and revenge.

Cave and Kahn illustrate what women know all too well: dating is a horror, men are invariably the worst, and friends should and always will be your ‘ride-or-dies’. All packaged in the perfect girl’s night drinking game: a sip for every red-flag!