One of the great things about the Sundance Film Festival is that new or mostly unknown directors, screenwriters, and actors inevitably steal the show with exceptional filmmaking, thought-provoking storytelling, and breakthrough performances. Last year, CODA was the first film most people watched at the beginning of the festival, and it ended up as one of the very best movies of 2021 — in my case, as my own indisputable number one pick of the year. Mimi Cave's directorial debut might follow the same route. An important advice: this film holds shocking developments that are better enjoyed if unspoiled, so beware of possible spoilers circulating social media.
In the film, the viewer is quickly introduced to Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a young woman looking for the man of her life in dating apps. Not soon after, Steve (Sebastian Stan) enters Noa's life, after a quick meet-cute at a grocery store. A random encounter leads to subsequent dates, and it becomes tremendously easy for the viewer to feel captivated by the charming & witty couple. From the simple yet efficient exposition of their first date, to the subtle yet powerful build-up to the strangely off-putting weekend getaway; Cave shows clear vision by not wasting time with the “awkward preamble”, as Noa states at one point.
The opening credits start to roll at the end of the admittedly fast first act. Shocking revelations, mind-blowing plot twists, and extremely impactful outcomes usually occur near or during a climactic third act in a standard Horror flick. Lauryn Kahn's wicked screenplay on the other hand presents these key beats at around the half-hour mark. On one hand, it makes the beginning of the movie incredibly fascinating; not letting the viewers turn their eyes off-screen. On the other hand, it risks leaving the rest of the film without major cards to play — where the second act sacrifices some engagement. As the runtime progresses, FRESH becomes more violent, bloody, gruesome, and revolting. Cave often uses Pawel Pogorzelski's cinematography to expand the audience's imagination, putting the viewer through utterly appalling close-ups that might make some queasy watchers look away. The sound design is particularly compelling during these sequences — akin to an ASMR video. The themes/topics surrounding technology, online security, feminism, and a particular topic (which I can't disclose) are all thoroughly explored, without ever feeling forced or attending a biased agenda.
It's also impossible to discuss this film without addressing the phenomenal acting involved. Sebastian Stan (The Devil All the Time) and Daisy Edgar-Jones (Pond Life) are both unbelievably delicious in their individual roles. It's difficult to choose an MVP. Despite Stan being quite well-known; the actor shows a psychotic side to his persona that will make young fans of the MCU run and scream. However, Edgar-Jones presumably delivers her breakthrough display, at least in the cinema realm. From the sweet, hilarious, friendly Noa to the emotionally devastated yet strong and evolved version of the same character featured later on in the film; the actress shines bright in every single beat.
FRESH is an unforgettably shocking entry from this year's Sundance Film Festival; holding all of the characteristics to become a cult classic. Mimi Cave delivers an extraordinarily captivating and assertive directorial debut; taking Lauryn Kahn's original, gruesome screenplay to the next level. Sebastian Stan demonstrates his ludicrous range, while Daisy Edgar-Jones gives a breakthrough performance. With an engaging opening act, the viewer is immediately grabbed by the endearing love story that slowly builds up to a brutally impactful revelation — leading the film into a rabbit hole of (in)tense, suspenseful, and surprising developments.