Starring Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones, FRESH is the directorial debut of Mimi Cave. Twenty-something Noa (Edgar-Jones) is sick of being single, to which she endlessly looks at her dating app and complains to her best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs). In a sweet meet-cute, she meets awkward doctor Steve (Stan) while out shopping and they hit it off straight away. When Steve invites Noa to a romantic trip for the weekend, things go wrong super-quick as he reveals his dark intentions.
Written by Lauryn Kahn, the narrative beautifully lulls audiences into a false sense of security with a charming and witty premise of an indie romance. However, the script isn’t afraid to drop the odd hint about personal safety – in Mollie’s wise words, the fact that there is no social media account for Noa’s new man is a ‘red flag’. In truth, Kahn uses elements of personal safety to develop layers in the premise, as well as deliver brilliantly executed twists while highlighting the downsides (and dangers) of online dating – especially as FRESH starts off with a bad date with a condescending jerk.
While FRESH can be considered a horror film of sorts, protagonist Noa should not be quickly dismissed as a damsel in distress – despite her awkward persona, she is aware of what she can and cannot do and she subsequently becomes a surprising heroine, assessing and thinking ahead before making a move. In addition, Noa forms a touching sisterhood with her ‘neighbour’ Penny (Andrea Bang) that echoes her closeness with Mollie, culminating in a slow-brewed display of feminism amid a furious and violent flurry of activity. Steve, however, is all smiles and charm – catering to the needs of wealthy customers, he relishes in his work and is oblivious to the horrors he inflicts. But underneath his disturbingly charming exterior, he hints for someone to share his passion and bonds with Noa in a way that would be considered romantic…if he wasn’t a misogynistic psycho.
On-screen, the cast makes their mark in different yet notable ways. Edgar-Jones delivers an engaging performance as Noa, and Stan is having a ball playing against type as the gleefully twisted Steve. In supporting roles, Gibbs delivers sass and level-headedness and even Dayo Okeniyi brings comic relief in a fleeting role as a bartender. Thankfully, Kahn’s screenplay prevents them from falling into type with quick-witted dialogue so the film’s consistent pace and tone harmonise with Cave’s bold direction.
Cave’s previous experience with music videos perfectly sets up the intense visuals that range from unsettling to incredulous, while clever use of dimmed lighting and bold colours and architecture enables Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography to emphasise the shadiness of Steve’s operations, not to mention the bleak fate that has befallen Noa and her companions. By the time the title card unexpectedly shows up, FRESH evokes an energy that sweeps its unsuspecting audiences off their feet. The result is a surprising yet dazzling thriller that offers shock and entertainment.
Overall, FRESH is an impressive debut for Cave. Accompanied by Kahn’s deliciously twisted screenplay and entertaining performances from Edgar-Jones and Stan, audiences will lap it up.
Director: Mimi Cave; Lauryn Khan (screenwriter)
Stars: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan, Andrea Bang, Jojo T Gibbs
Runtime: 114 minutes