Ever since 2017, when Jordan Peele shocked the world with his directorial debut, film executives have searched endlessly for “the next Get Out”. The results of executives’ efforts over the last five years to find the new social thriller have been disastrous to say the least (see, Antebellum, Karen, The Hunt (2020), etc.). That is, until director Mimi Cave came along and delivered the delectable social thriller, Fresh. While Cave’s first feature film may not reach the stratospheric heights of Peele’s work, its meticulous composition and darkly-comedic tone make Fresh stand out as a worthy entry into the social thriller genre canon.
Fresh tells the story of Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a confident woman who tries to find a genuine romantic connection in a society where men are only concerned with a woman’s body and how it can provide them pleasure. After a seemingly endless string of sub-par dating app encounters, Noa happens upon Steve (Sebastian Stan), a charismatic and affable doctor who appears to be the anthesis of Noa’s exes. As their intimate connection deepens though, Noa discovers that there is far more mystery to Steve than meets the eye.
To say much more about Fresh‘s narrative would do a disservice to the well-crafted twists that Cave and Searchlight Pictures (Fresh‘s distributor) have excelled in hiding in the film’s promotional materials. Having said that, when the film begins to reveal its true colors, Cave puts her foot on the metaphorical gas and never lets up with her inventive directorial style. So much of Fresh’s plot could have directly translated to a plethora of wide two shots. However, Cave and her cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski go the opposite direction with a wildly varying shot composition that have been meticulously planned out; from gorgeous extreme close-ups of lips and food to a fisheye lens style that warps and distorts the main characters’ features. Additionally, these techniques rarely come off as showy as they are always in service of the film’s overarching themes/motifs and its characters’ mental states. For instance, moments of intimacy between Noa and Steve are shot handheld, which make audience feel like voyeurs to the couple’s romantic escapades.
This level of detail also extends to its leading actors. As Steve, Sebastian Stan gives the performance his career by balancing his natural charisma with a zany, manic energy akin to James McAvoy in Split. Daisy Edgar-Jones is similarly excellent, as she lends an air of mystery to Noa in a way where the audience is never sure of her exact motivations. It also helps that both actors have an immeasurable amount of chemistry, which makes some potentially awkward exchanges seem utterly delightful.
All of these elements mostly mesh with a darkly comedic narrative that depicts a serious (and sometimes too on the nose) allegory about the agency of women’s bodies. However, Fresh‘s enjoyable excesses do befall the film in the third act, which begs for a dash of nuance to really drive home Cave’s overall message. Having said that, the third act doesn’t negate from the lively energy that pervades throughout the film.
While Fresh will obviously be compared to Get Out (as I did in the beginning of this review), Paul Thomas Anderson’s breakout film, Boogie Nights may be a more apt comparison for Cave’s debut feature. While both Cave and Anderson clearly riff off of an seminal film text (Get Out and Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, respectively), they are able to do so better than any of their contemporaries thanks to their excess of panache in service of the story. Needless to say, if Fresh leaves you with anything, it’s that director Mimi Cave has an authoritative cinematic voice and a bright future ahead of her.
The Silver Lining
Production designer Jennifer Morden has crafted beautifully understated environments for Noa and Steve to inhabit. In particular, the sleeks lines and neutral colors of Steve’s abode give off a homey yet unfamiliar energy that coincides with the moods of the characters perfectly.
Fresh is available to stream on Hulu beginning this Friday, March 4th.