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Stream It Or Skip It: 'Fresh' on Hulu, a Horror-Comedy in Which Sebastian Stan Wants to Eat You Alive – Decider

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Hulu’s Fresh might confound the writers/characters in the latest Scream movie, since first-time feature director Mimi Cave’s psycho-horror bloodbath is somewhat “elevated” (hooray for feminism!) but also aims for nauseating chills (down with cannibalism!). Maybe it’s time to whip out the phrase “middlebrow horror” to define such efforts that try to have their human-liver pate and eat it too? It falls along the lines of another recent Hulu original, No Exit; both feature a careful balance of visual panache, cheeky comedy and gory slaughterama that can be a difficult trick to pull off. But they mostly succeed, so maybe it’s time for a double feature.
The Gist: This a-hole. He’s going on about his acid reflux. Over some (probably spicy) noodles. And pontificating on how women don’t dress as “feminine” as they used to. Goodbye, jackass. Dating is so very stick-figure-dropping-garbage-in-a-wastebasket emoji for Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones). She gripes about it to her best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs) as they take turns pounding the heavy bag in a fitness class, and don’t think I didn’t notice the instructor is a condescending, phony-clapping human male who might just deserve a punch flat on that smirk. Maybe I’m reading too much into that? Or not?
Noa is at the grocery store beneath a brussel sprouts ($2.99/lb.) sign when she meets Steve (Sebastian Stan), a sort-of-funny, awkwardly charming guy. Thousands of years of human evolution did not lead to the current state of humanity so a young woman like Noa can apathetically scroll through dudes and bros (and senders of grotesque dick pics) on a lousy dating app. So when Steve asks for her number, she gives it to him, which seems like less of a gamble than swiping right on someone with a German shepherd for a profile pic. Isn’t this how people met each other decades ago? Face to face, following intuition and unconscious hormonal attraction in public places?
So Noa and Steve go out on a date. They pour down a couple drinks to stimulate the biochemical bloom, and it works. They hit it off. She shares her somewhat cynical views on the immediate situation – she hates dating and its baked-in superficial getting-to-know-you crapola, true love is a fallacy, etc. – and he doesn’t dash for the exit. They kiss and go back to her apartment and she wakes up the next morning and sneaks a creeper pic of him sleeping so she can show Mollie. Soon after, they’re hanging out and he suggests they take off for the weekend. Nobody seems interested in playing any games here. But you already know this movie isn’t about how Noa and Steve live happily ever after, or even just give it the good ol’ college try and end up in splitsville. No, this is a movie about people eating other people, so somebody is obviously playing the long game here. Hint: His name rhymes with “cleave.”
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: I’m pretty sure we’d be inflicted with about 50% more horror ennui if Jordan Peele had never made Get Out, which continues to have a ripple effect on the genre, be it thematically (racial reckoning) or tonally (serious, with a veneer of dark comedy). So meld tonal Peele-isms with righteous-woman revenge movies like The Nightingale or Promising Young Woman and add a dash of American Psycho, and you’ll land in the vicinity of Fresh. (Oh and the wavy-font logo on the poster? Pure giallo.)
Performance Worth Watching: Stan fully blossoms in the role of a (not really a spoiler alert) sadistic sociopath who’s scary and charismatic, but also shows a few chinks in his armor.
Memorable Dialogue: Let’s decontextualize this one-liner so it won’t be a spoiler: “BITCHES LIKE YOU ARE THE F—ING PROBLEM!”
Sex and Skin: Lady top/rear in the shower; a sex scene in which we don’t see much, and are ultimately rather grateful for it.
Our Take: You won’t be at all surprised to learn that Fresh is an indictment of toxic masculinity, and relies heavily on feminine perseverance to fuel the drama. That’s a familiar dynamic, and the film is purposeful and effective on those thematic fronts. What’s surprising about this tense, gory kinda-comedy is how Cave shitcans the stylistic cliches of cheapo scarefests or home-invasion thrillers – no jump scares or hammering musical cues here – opting instead for clever needle drops (almost-ironic ’80s cheese-pop) and cagey visual flourishes (the opening credits sequence) that land not with a slam-bang, but a nudge-wink.
Oh, and Cave and screenwriter Lauryn Kahn don’t shy away from sick humor. Fresh doesn’t shove our faces into the sub-floor slough of the abattoir as a sicko like Eli Roth might, but seasons the cannibalism comedy like a taboo bon vivant. Back-and-forth dialogue between Steve and Noa is layered with icky double-entendres and nauseating moral relativism, and our heroine protagonist shows a willingness to do whatever it takes to get out of her disturbing predicament, no matter how gut churning it might be (but not as gut-churning as it could’ve been, considering the subject matter; it’s no The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover). Granted, the film isn’t always an epicurean endeavor – Cave’s cunning fizzles and fades a little in the third act, giving way to mostly rote violence and contrivances that’ll have you shouting advice at the screen. But as the opening volley from a filmmaker with wily vision, Fresh is aptly self-descriptive.
Our Call: Yum! STREAM IT.
Will you stream or skip the horror comedy #FreshMovie on @hulu? #SIOSI
— Decider (@decider) March 5, 2022

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.
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