Sundance 2022: Speak No Evil, Fresh, Babysitter | Parties and Awards
Of course, there’s no need to choose: both types of fear radiate off the screen in hot, frenzied waves as the film ends. It’s a perfect pick-up for Shudder, AMC Networks’ horror-centric streaming service, which acquired the film last week and will release it to subscribers later this year.
Elsewhere in the Midnight section, Mimi Cave’s “Costs” exploits the anxieties and social contracts of modern dating for its own sick kicks, though it works in a more cartoonish, crowd-pleasing key. The film has been acquired by Disney-owned Searchlight Pictures ahead of its Sundance premiere and will premiere on Hulu in March. And such a high-profile cast plan makes sense for “Fresh,” which benefits hugely from its tracks’ twisted chemistry, Cave’s confidence behind the camera, and Lauryn Kahn’s slick script crafted.
Daisy Edgar-Jones of Hulu’s “Normal People” stars as Noa, a twentysomething in modern Los Angeles who regularly scrolls through dating apps looking for a decent guy. She’s exhausted from this pursuit, and the film only needs one excruciatingly bad date to show us why. When Noa is accosted in the produce aisle of her local supermarket by Steve (Sebastian Stan), a handsome, seemingly available stranger, she interprets this encounter as the answer to her prayers.
Although Noa’s best friend Molly (Jojo T Gibbs) raises an eyebrow at Steve’s lack of social media, their courtship goes predictably and smoothly, until Noa lets Steve take her to a distant place, in which case his mood seems to darken. “Fresh” doesn’t drop its title for 40 minutes, when the cute encounters and first-date weaknesses of its first act culminate in a rug so wild—and, in Cave’s hands, so plausible—that you share Noa’s sudden and nauseating realization that she is trapped.
“Fresh” has been teased in marketing materials as a movie about “the horrors of modern dating,” though it would do the film’s beautifully twisted story a disservice to rate it as social commentary first. That’s not to say there’s no substance to the film’s view of violent masculinity as an ingrained cultural behavior, nor to deny the corrosive truth of its assessment that the gift of fear, gut instinct, is often all women can count on to survive encounters with men who wish them harm. But, in “Fresh”, Cave and Kahn acknowledge the traumatic weight of these realities without making them the subject of the film. Noa’s ordeal leaves your stomach in knots, as does the horrifying normalcy with which Steve’s trap closes around her, but the incredibly cruel and darkly comic twists that “Fresh” delivers from there are what give the biting sound film.