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film review

Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones in Fresh.20th Century Studios / Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

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Directed by Mimi Cave

Written by Lauryn Kahn

Starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan

Classification R; 114 minutes

Streaming on Disney+ with Star starting March 4

Critic’s Choice

Who hasn’t been on a first date so boring, you’re tempted to rip off your own limb just to feel something? Mimi Cave’s Fresh, a high-concept horror film that premiered at Sundance’s Midnight section this year, understands the pain of the modern single, blindly swiping right.

The film opens with a depressing first date between Noa (the formidable Daisy Edgar-Jones from Normal People, here in curtain bangs and an American accent) and a scarf-wearing jerk played by Jane the Virgin’s Brett Dier. He’s the kind of winner who insults Noa’s outfit, steals her leftovers and then insists on splitting the check.

All Noa wants is love, but all she receives are penis pics and humiliations, which is why a meet-cute with a handsome doctor in the produce section of her local grocery store feels like a gift from god. Opening by asking Noa to try an heirloom grape that tastes like cotton candy, Steve (Sebastian Stan) has all the right moves. He’s a rarity in the dating world: a charming, self-aware adult who doesn’t seem like a serial killer.

Cave’s stylish horror-slash-rom-com rejoices in the blossoming of a cutesy hipster romance as Steve and Noa drink Manhattans in a trendy dive bar, dance to Dev Hynes and sleep together on their first date. She’s on cloud nine as she texts her best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs) a picture of Steve’s sleeping face beside her, exclaiming: “I didn’t think people met each other in real life any more!”

When Steve asks Noa to go away with him for the weekend, Mollie, who is queer, Black and therefore relegated to supporting-character status before taking action in the second act, aptly jokes that her BFF is living every straight girl’s fantasy. Which is when Fresh veers into something so sick and unforgettable, you’ll take that hateful man in a scarf any day.

Without spoiling the shocking twist that makes this feminist revenge thriller worth viewing, one man’s beautiful dark twisted fantasy becomes Noa’s waking nightmare. The process of falling in love can often be a series of false projections – I’ve never seen a movie that makes a woman pay for it with her own blood.

Credit must be paid to the female writer and director behind Fresh, which features a blisteringly subversive script and some of the most assured directing I’ve ever seen in the horror space. Setting an uneasy tone early, Cave uses micro close-ups of her actors’ faces to create a distorted view of romance. With Vancouver standing in for somewhere trendy in the Pacific Northwest (there’s a visible Shoppers Drug Mart), the movie’s dimly lit bars and cozy apartments feel true to life, with Steve’s stately vacation home a master-class in production design.

The formidable Daisy Edgar-Jones plays Noa with curtain bangs and an American accent.20th Century Studios / Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

First trained as a choreographer and then a music-video director for bands such as Tune-Yards, and Danny Brown, Cave understands how to sensorially move the camera in response to bodies in motion, whether Noa is making out with abandon or running for her life. Stan revels in the chance to play someone dastardly, chewing the scenery.

Like with any internet romance, there are obvious flaws. Fresh is a COVID cabin in the woods movie that segregates its leads too often, and could make better use of its supporting cast, including Kim’s Convenience’s Andrea Bang. The first 90 minutes is an audacious shock, petering out with an exceptionally messy and chaotic climax. But while Fresh takes obvious cues from Get Out and Promising Young Woman, it’s something unique, a balm to any singleton that promises to turn you off online dating and red meat forever.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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