Fresh

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So, the poster says this movie is only on Hulu but that isn’t true; we don’t have that service here so in the UK it is on Disney+. You might have seen it come up on your stream and wondered what it is, since it has suddenly arrived with no fanfare or discussion, but I promise you it is not anything close to what you might expect and it is going to get talked about now for sure. I am fairly certain this is the darkest film ever to have Disney’s name anywhere near it.

Fresh starts off simply enough as Normal People’s Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan meet, fall for each other and head off for an impetuous romantic weekend away. This rightly concerns the best friend of Edgar-Jones’ Noa and it turns out she was wise to be worried as it quickly becomes apparent that Stan’s Steve has other plans.

I’m not going to say too much more about the plot as the reveal will have more power if you don’t know what it is. Even if you think you’ve guessed it though, you might not have it quite right as while this shares themes with a range of other movies, I’ve never seen them played out quite like this before. It is not a spoiler to tell you that Stan is playing a bad guy, the film is listed as a horror and it has an 18 certificate which few movies earn these days so the indicators are all there. He retains all the same traits of likability he showed initially though, it only being the change of events that suddenly makes them cold and unsettling.

Unsettling is actually the word I would use to describe the whole story. This is most strongly felt through a series of imagery that plays on the familiar but is repellent in this context. It is also in the actions of its players though; his through choice and hers with motivations that remain uncomfortably ambiguous for much of the running time. This is key because it is with the character and behaviour of Noa that the movie really excels. There is a satisfying pay off, nasty but satisfying, but watching things play out before this, you don’t quite know what is driving her. (There are other women in the film who are further down both of the roads she could take.) What is evident throughout is that she is not playing the victim despite being up against, and most certainly suffering at the hands of, unimaginably violent misogyny and male arrogance.

Through incredible fortitude and strength of will Noa retains her own agency. If you thought Catherine Martin shouting abuse at Buffalo Bill from the bottom of that pit in Silence of the Lambs was showing defiance and bravery then you’ve not seen anything yet. Edgar-Jones’ Noa has the Ripley Factor and then some. I often muse over how female characters would be different if films were written and directed by women and here is a great example of what this looks like. Fresh comes from screenwriter Lauryn Kahn and director Mimi Cave and they follow creatives like Julia Ducournau and Coralie Fargeat in reframing genres previously dominated by male film makers.

Before now Kahn worked as an assistant to Adam McKay on The Other Guys and Step Brothers (McKay produces here) and Fresh follows the same marriage of humour and seriousness that McKay has gone on to show in his most recent films The Big Short, Vice and Don’t Look Up. I think Fresh shows a greater mastery of this tricky combination though, there is a subtlety in how they are managed here that by my mind has so far alluded McKay. I hope her partnership with Cave, who makes an impressive feature debut with this, long continues. Fresh doesn’t have anything near the might of something like Promising Young Woman but it’s playing in that field.

Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan are both excellent in the film but she takes it. Stan’s recent work in projects such as this, I,Tonya and Pam & Tommy show a real intention on his part to play with the male hero persona he developed as Bucky in the MCU and that’s applaudable. Edgar-Jones is not as recognisable yet, despite some great TV work, but with any justice Fresh will mark a significant step forward in this quickly changing.

Credit to Disney for supporting and distributing this film then. They have put plenty of more mature content out there before through subsidiary companies like Touchstone (Hulu is theirs too) but this still feels like a step into the future. Interestingly, with Fresh, there is also acknowledgement of their past with the following little snippet of dialogue:

‘You don’t need a man, or anybody for that matter. That’s just how we’ve been raised by fucking Disney movies. Yeah, fuck Ariel. Stupid bitch left the whole sea for a man. Fuck Beauty, fuck the Beast. I am the Beast.’

It’s all deliciously empowering a confrontational stuff from the studio that once gave us ‘some day my prince will come’.

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