Fresh review: Sebastian Stan stands out in witty, outrageous thriller

Daisy Edgar-Jones in Fresh
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A smartly told rom-com/thriller with the ultimate creepy performance from Sebastian Stan – here’s what we thought of Fresh. 

Director Mimi Cave’s feature debut Fresh opens with the date from hell. Noa, our protagonist played by Normal People's Daisy Edgar-Jones, is sat opposite a guy who thinks it’s perfectly ordinary to make uncalled for comments on a woman’s appearance. After being generally obnoxious, her date assumes they’ll see each other again and brands her a “stuck-up bitch” when she gently rebuffs him. This film will immediately speak to the women watching. We’ve all been there or know someone who has been.

Fed up of the nightmare that is modern dating, Noa stops swiping through dating apps and takes a chance on Steve (Sebastian Stan). They meet by chance in the grocery store, and she is immediately taken in by his charm. After only a couple of dates, Steve invites her on a weekend getaway and, trying her hardest to believe in romance, she accepts. But things don’t go according to plan when Steve is revealed to have some rather unusual appetites…

Even before the twist comes along and the opening credits roll (30 minutes in, a bold move more films should opt for) Fresh depicts the scary, over-cautious world that women must occupy. On the way back from her date in the opening scene, Noa walks with her keys between her fingers and constantly looks over her shoulder.

The whole film is a smart story about how men make the world unsafe for women, and how some women enable that behaviour. It’s also a metaphor for their commodification. Modern dating, in a way, is like going shopping. People get to browse through the available women and pick out the ‘prettiest’. Fresh points all of this out through a witty, surreal, and often uncomfortable story that’s also outrageous fun.

While it’s a smart film, it often feels less like it’s making a statement than it is stating the obvious. It shows all the dangers, and abuse, and oppression that women can be subjected to, but it doesn’t have much else to say about it. For women in the audience, it’s pointing out things that we already know and are all too familiar with. Despite the lack of depth to the social commentary, there’s still a lot of fun to be had.

Fresh sebastian stan daisy edgar-jones

That’s where the cast comes in. There’s not a single actor on the screen who’s not giving it their all, but Sebastian Stan is the centre of attention. He’s well-suited to the rom-com lead, bringing a mixture of easy charm and sweet social awkwardness. And then he flips without warning, showing a whole variety of red flags. Stan is masterful in his emotional range, and can be genuinely scary because of the nonchalance he treats his secret with (which I absolutely won’t give away).

Edgar-Jones portrays a similarly complex Noa, a woman who’s been toughened up by living alone for so long, but stumbles into a situation that exposes her vulnerability. Also deserving of a mention is Jojo T. Gibbs, who plays Noa’s fiery best friend, Mollie. She’s got bags of charisma and gives a lot of personality to her intelligent, independent character.

Visually, Fresh goes out of its way to make you uncomfortable. While there’s little in the way of obvious on-screen gore, there are a few close ups that are bound to make some people squeamish. But it definitely adds to the film’s impact. While it tackles some serious topics, the premise is slightly absurd at times. The shocking imagery is the perfect way to ground the movie and prevent it from slipping too far, to the point of becoming a full-on dark comedy. It manages perfectly to balance the big themes, dramatic premise, and Stan’s larger-than-life performance with smaller, more human moments.

The pace never lags, and the mental games played between Steve and Noa become more and more intriguing. At times it seems obvious where the film will end up, but there are moments of doubt sewn in that make the final act increasingly interesting. Ultimately Fresh is a fun, outrageous, and smart thriller that’s weirdly relatable despite its weirdness.

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