[Sundance 2022 Review] ‘Fresh’ imagines the dark side of modern dating

While just about everything else has been made easier with the invention of apps, dating still feels like a chore. The lonely Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) knows this all too well in Fresh. Mimi Cave‘s directorial debut shadows a cynical twenty-something as she bounces from one disappointing date to another. However, being randomly picked up by a handsome surgeon at the grocery store seems like Noa’s luck is finally changing. Unfortunately for her, it’s not for the better.

As far as Noa can tell, Steve (Sebastian Stan) is a total catch. Her best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs) is naturally suspicious of everyone, but her instincts might be right in this case. Steve’s peculiarities — for example, him having no online presence — can be interpreted as flaws. Maybe even red flags. For someone like Noa, though, she simply wants to be wanted. It’s only understandable she looks the other way. Everyone watching, on the other hand, is waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Cave and writer Lauryn Kahn are not looking to undermine the audience’s expectations here. They’ve set up everything according to genre regulations and not following up on those foreshadowing moments would be foolish and not to mention a waste of time. It also would have been easy — but agonizing — to draw things out. More pleasing than not, Fresh reveals its hand earlier than anticipated. Knowing the truth doesn’t lessen the revelation’s impact or remove tension, either. That level of shock regarding that plot turn will vary from person to person. Some people are simply more prepared to assume the worst.

Fresh is wise to speed through the formalities of these kinds of thrillers and get straight to the meat of the predicament. This leaves room for more engaging storytelling rather than working overtime to uphold the current mystery. Instead, there is a reasonably good amount of suspenseful interactions between the two opposing characters.

Noa is never written to be a victim who lacks agency in her situation. Even when she’s down for a spell, Noa is always thinking of how she can help herself. The filmmakers of Fresh have a considerable deal of respect for their protagonist in spite of the misfortune they’ve subjected her to. Steve’s unsavoriness is digestible thanks to Stan’s devilish charm, but not to the point where it feels like the film wants him to get away with his wrongdoing. Now if only Mollie and another supporting character, Paul (Dayo Okeniyi), had been afforded the same care as the leads. There are too many times where they are less authentic than their peers.

It’s unclear if something like Fresh will have a long shelf life. Although, it does well not to dwell on the technological aspects of the modern dating scene. The writing is never offensively straightforward either, yet there are times the script veers toward middle-of-the-road in the face of such an unusual premise and outcome. Still, there are plenty of times where this feels like the jewel in the crown of dating horror stories.

Fresh premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2022, and it is scheduled to be released on March 4, 2022 on Hulu.

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