LOS ANGELES, Jan. 23 (UPI) — Dating sucks, and has been the subject of countless movies. “Fresh,” which premiered virtually at the Sundance Film Festival Thursday, has an approach so bold it shouldn’t be spoiled, which is both a pun and a secret worth keeping.
Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) has a first date with Chad (Brett Dier), who makes a lousy first impression, and second and third. He’s typical of the types of guys Noa often meets on dating apps, so when Steve (Sebastian Stan) approaches her in the supermarket, he looks like Cary Grant by comparison.
Steve’s approach would work in a vacuum though. Just by being a decent human being, Steve ensnares her. But, “Fresh” played in the midnight section of Sundance, so it’s obvious Steve isn’t really the dream man. Yet, the title doesn’t even appear until 38 minutes in, so that’s the point at which the rest of the plot should be protected.
Up until then, writer Lauryn Kahn and director Mimi Cave are so observant about modern dating, viewers can trust they are in good hands. Depicting modern texting and apps has already become a cliche in the few years they’ve been constant in film and television. “Fresh” makes them feel natural.
The title could have several meanings and many of them are misdirects. So here’s a hint. It’s not about the fresh air of the Cottage Grove cabin to which Steve invites Noa, and it’s not about the fresh relationship.
As far as midnight movie antics go, “Fresh” delivers macabre mutilations the likes of which they never attempted in “Saw” or “Hostel.” Even in the darkest sections, Stan relishes the role of Steve with playful joy, dancing through the house like he’s in Risky Business.
Edgar-Jones is as lovable as she was in “Normal People.” Noa’s too good for all the guys in the movie, but not because she’s precocious. She simply has no expectations, and yet everyone falls below that baseline.
“Fresh” is not for the squeamish as its placement in the festival, and R rating, should indicate. It is a true original though, and adventurous cinephiles should indulge.
Searchlight Pictures will release “Fresh” on Hulu March 4.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.