Hulu’s latest original comedy/thriller, “Fresh,” is a clever day-to-day depiction of online dating as a straight woman… that is, for the first 30 minutes. What follows is a hypnotizing cannibal-romance set to an infectious soundtrack and suspiciously–welcoming lighting.
What could have very easily turned into a cheap horror torture-porn flick ended up giving viewers a look into the woman’s experience of dating men. “Fresh” first brings viewers into this reality when protagonist Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) stumbles through a dinner date with a man she met online. After a slew of comments from him like, “You would look really great in a dress,” Noa rejects him at the end of their dinner — to which he responds by calling her a “stuck-up b—-.” When Noa walks to her car after the date, she fearfully turns around to see a man following her down the alley. When Noa gets home and checks her dating app, she’s met with persistently harassing messages and what viewers can assume is an unsolicited nude picture. Sound surprising? Nope. At least, not until Noa meets the charming plastic surgeon Steve (Sebastian Stan) at the grocery store. He unthreateningly asks for her number after a flirtatious encounter and the pair follow up with two successful dates — something that Noa has become unaccustomed to — before heading off on a romantic getaway. But on the way there, plans change, and before Noa knows it, she is drugged and chained up in Steve’s basement. Even more surprising: all of this happens before viewers see the title screen.
The comedic side of the film makes its viewers the butt of the joke when the title screen comes on a quarter of the way into the runtime. It’s as if Steve turning out to be the bad guy was a slap in the face to the audience, just as much as it was to Noa. After all, their dates prior to the kidnapping were nothing but entrancing, and the cinematography combined with the pair’s acting win viewers over almost as much as Steve’s undeniable charm.
Stan makes an almost too–convincing killer alongside the dorky yet lovable Edgar-Jones, but not too convincing for viewers not to see the red flags. Even though audiences might want to scream at Noa for telling a man on a first date that she lives alone and doesn’t have a family, her friends –– especially best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs) –– want her to be happy, so they choose to look away from what’s staring right at them. After all, under warm, romantic lighting and a fun soundtrack, a weird comment about what’s for dinner or closeup shots of Steve’s mouth and Noa’s skin might not seem so worrisome.
The plot finds its strengths in details, but its message is far less than subtle. “Fresh” never misses an opportunity to remind viewers that for women, dating men can prompt situations that range from slightly annoying to genuinely terrifying. A misogynistic comment here, a life-or-death situation there, the message is, at times, way too on the nose. At a certain point, this gets obnoxious — but maybe that’s the point.
In its attempt to hammer home the point, “Fresh” spoils its “girl power” themes with predictability and overdone tropes. Noa’s best friend Mollie is one of the two only Black characters and the writing relies heavily on her as Noa’s motivational and rational support. While the women are at a self-defense class, Noa expresses the acceptance of her lonely fate and Mollie reminds her that she doesn’t “need a man.” When Noa tells her Steve invited her on a trip, Mollie is suspicious and tells Noa to be careful.
The film is a mesmerizing new addition to the “good-for-her” contemporary horror subgenre where men are inherently predatory. With biting humor and wit, “Fresh” has a lot to say, which is unfortunately its biggest mistake.