Hulu’s “Fresh” takes nearly 30 minutes to reach its title card, and for good reason.
Hulu has been releasing highly anticipated series and movies in quick succession, and “Fresh” is the newest movie to hit the platform. It premiered on March 4, after the original showing at Sundance in January of 2022.
“Fresh” stars Sebastian Stan, best known for his role as comic book character Bucky Barnes (aka the Winter Soldier) in the expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe; Stan also stars in another recent Hulu release, “Pam and Tommy,” where he plays Tommy Lee of Motley Crue alongside Lily James, who plays Pamela Anderson. Starring alongside Stan in “Fresh” is Daisy Edgar-Jones — best known for her work in the critically acclaimed Hulu series “Normal People” — who plays Noa.
The film opens with Noa as she struggles to navigate through the modern dating scene. She hates dating, particularly the texting, the awkward “preambles” and the introductory questions. After a series of failed dates set up on dating apps, she seems to meet Steve magically and organically in real life. Sparks fly in the produce section, and Steve’s smart humor and attempts at flirting earn him Noa’s number. She can’t believe that she happened upon someone so perfect in real life, and she immediately relays this information to her best friend, Mollie, played by Jonica T. Gibbs.
On top of all that, he’s a doctor! Noa and Steve immediately hit it off on their first date, and their chemistry is undeniable. He seems to be the perfect antidote to her cynicism about love. Steve offers to take Noa on a weekend trip to his vacation house, but things take an unexpected turn when they arrive. It turns out that Steve has some interesting tastes, and his unusual appetites take the lead in the movie.
Steve, as it turns out, is a cannibal. Not only that, but he harvests meat for other cannibals. It is when he drugs Noa and she collapses that “Fresh” displays on-screen and the title credits begin to play. The tricky part of the harvesting, though, is this: His cannibal clientele, which consists strictly of men, prefers to eat meat that is fresh. The meat also apparently tastes best when it comes from women — and their specific preferences mean that the meat must be harvested from young, beautiful women while they’re still alive. Thus, Steve keeps women in the basement chamber of his secluded secondary house and must keep them alive as long as possible in order to keep the meat at the quality desired.
Noa is chained in the basement with two other women but eventually realizes that she is of special status to Steve in many ways. Noa finds out that Steve never sleeps with the other women. This makes sense; Steve has another family, consisting of his loving, devoted wife and his son. Noa is the exception though — so much so that Steve treats her to magazines and candlelit dinners throughout her imprisonment.
She isn’t entirely exempt from Steve’s meat business though. In fact, she loses both of her buttcheeks. The dinners, of course, consist of the meat of other women that Steve has kept in his basement (and even possibly her own). Steve reminisces about the women they eat, and Noa finds a wall of cubbies, each belonging to a woman. Each woman has a photo, as well as their personal belongings.
Noa must seduce him though and the two continue to have their dinners and candlelit talks. They make jokes about eating a woman named “Hope,” and their dinner chats are reminiscent of their early encounter in the produce aisle. Noa tries to make it appear that she is bending to Steve’s appetites, and he seems to buy into it. In the most romantic way someone can talk about cannibalism, Steve, over dinner, says that it is “about giving — giving yourself over to someone, becoming one forever. That’s love.”
“Fresh” is Mimi Cave’s first feature film. Cave is best known for her work on short-form material, from short films to advertisements to music videos. Written by Lauryn Kahn and produced by Adam McKay, the film is simultaneously beautiful but gruesome, riddled with betrayal yet grounded in love. Filled with ‘70s nostalgia, the visuals of “Fresh” are earth-toned and muted, and the sets are effortlessly well done. The soundtrack is full of music from the early 2000s back to the 1970s, including favorites like “Heads Will Roll” (2009) and “Whole Lotta Your Love” (1973) by Lee Hurst, which all effortlessly guide the movie along.
Orchestrated by Cave and Gabe Hilfer, who has worked on projects like “Black Swan,” “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Don’t Look Up,” the soundtrack of the movie is intentional and particular. But, as both note, they didn’t want anything to be “too on the nose.” Particularly of note is an almost lulling scene of Noa and Steve dancing in sync to “Le Jardin” by La Femme while facing away from each other after their final dinner date. Nearly half of the music in the movie is diegetic or meant to be perceived as though the characters themselves are listening to it. We learn a lot about them this way, and Cave and Hilfer helpfully break down particular songs and scenes and what they mean here.
Although viewers will certainly form their own opinions about the movie, there is no doubt that “Fresh” is excitingly fresh and gory all at the same time and is a must-see for horror lovers.