Fresh Sundance review: Sebastian Stan delivers mouthwatering performance despite bland final course

production still from FRESH
Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones turn heads in this arthouse thriller. Pic credit: Searchlight Pictures

Fresh gets straight to its thrills, leaving no time for lollygagging. The thriller, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival, derails from expectations within thirty minutes of airtime, leaving its audience wondering: when did modern dating turn into such an easy horror story?

As little is known about this upcoming flick, many are conflicted as to what they should know before its Hulu premiere. Unfortunately, less is better as shown through the movie’s lack of promotional materials — it is one of the few that have screened at Sundance without first releasing a trailer. Its synopsis hints at Fresh’s descent into darkness but nobody seems to be saying the “quiet part” aloud, perhaps for the best.

Fresh opens up by introducing the audience to Noa, played by Normal People’s Daisy Edgar-Jones. This is an excellent introduction to the actor who had her breakthrough role in 2020. She captivates viewers as Noa, a young woman with no family and little interest in finding romance. She goes out on dates, not because she needs to but because of a nagging want to find some sort of connection — Noa doesn’t push and she won’t shy away from telling someone that things just aren’t working out.

However, as any gal in the modern world knows, some men don’t take rejection well. We see that on the big screen after her first failed date with a Grade-A jerk who calls her a b***h after she rejects his offer for a second date. Eventually, Noa finds herself striking a natural connection with Steve (Sebastian Stan) in the produce aisle of a grocery store. This dreamy meet-cute is filled with him ranting about cotton candy grapes and pretending to play hard-to-get after nearly tripping over his own feet to double back and get her number. It’s a scene that would make any lovesick idiot clutch their pearls.

However, as Fresh progresses it does a hard reset, cemented by its arthouse beginning credits which play over thirty minutes into the movie. Noa finds herself being whisked away on a dreamy vacation with Steve, where she discovers that he’s not the nice-guy she thought he was. Breaking from stereotypes, the big reveal isn’t that he’s a misogynistic incel, it’s that he’s hungry for a lot more than what the average person is willing to give.

This is when Fresh dissolves into absolute madness. With an original screenplay by Lauryn Kahn and stunning direction by Mimi Cave, the movie quickly abandons its romantic-comedy roots and instead adopts the heart-racing, maniac excitability of American Psycho paired with the intellectualized nature of Hannibal.

production still from FRESH
Daisy Edgar-Jones captivates audiences as Noa. Pic credit: Searchlight Pictures

Sebastian Stan leaves viewers hungry for more

Stan delivered a finger-licking performance in Fresh, fully embodying the chaotic nature of the movie’s pacing and his character. All eyes were on him during his high-energy montage set to the 80s synth-pop hit Obsession by Animotion, and despite its horrific nature and gory, butcher-esque imagery, many will find themselves captivated and wanting more.

The Winter Soldier actor leaves you no option but to stan as he matches the weirdness of Cave’s directorial choices which includes slicing his scenes with disgusting clips of men devouring meat and hands aggressively massaging soft body parts, and flashes of red, orange, and other dominant colors.

Stan’s Steve never fails to charm, even as his deadly habits become revealed. If one would peel away his sharp looks and charisma, audiences would be left with no drive to watch the movie play out. But, as he continues to woo Noa, the audience is left tilting their heads and going “ehh…maybe this could turn into a seductive Bonnie-and-Clyde situation.”

Fresh’s ending lacks in flavor

Edgar-Jones effortlessly matches Stan’s energy, making her the clear-cut heroine of the movie. However, this is where things begin to go wrong. Don’t be mistaken, the movie is an addictive and fresh addition to the saturated horror genre, but its ending was predictable in all of the worst ways.

production still of daisy edgar jones in fresh
Daisy Edgar-Jones plays the heroine in Fresh. Pic credit: Searchlight Pictures

While Noa tries to tap into Steve’s dark mind, she befriends another one of his other date-gone-wrong victims. Through a series of fluffy snippets, the two create a distant bond and bring a continued theme of sisterhood to the movie. Noa’s other friend, Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs), also inserts herself into the picture — in an overplayed, Black Best Friend tropey way — and the three of them make an unbeatable trio.

Once upon a time, this may have been an unconventional plot twist but with the last decade bringing forth a progressive wave of women-centric horror, it felt like a cheap ending. The decision to carry Mollie throughout the movie left her character to be chalked up to nothing but a stereotype, another Black character in a white-dominated movie who has no purpose other than to follow the danger to help her best friend, just for the narrative to be turned on her. Disappointingly, she doesn’t get a comeuppance that is anything out of the ordinary.

With a dominating script, talented cast, and fearless director, the ending of Fresh falls flat and abandons all hope of subverting the genre. It doesn’t go full-culty like Rocky Horror Picture Show or American Psycho, and there isn’t an unseen hero that arises to the scene like in Sweeney Todd. Instead, it bids adieu to its campy features and tragicomedy tone to give its audience a sweet release, which depending on personal preference might be enough to carry it through.

Fresh is scheduled to be released March 4 on Hulu.

More: , ,
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments