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Sundance 2022: ‘FRESH’ mixes comedy and cannibalism in new horror film

Starring Sebastian Stan (left) and Daisy Edgar-Jones (right), “FRESH” combines humor with horror to tell a story of modern dating gone wrong. As director Mimi Cave’s feature debut, Cave said she strived to toe the line between reality and a fantastical thriller. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

"FRESH"

Directed by Mimi Cave

Legendary Pictures

Jan. 20

By Vivian Xu

Jan. 24, 2022 1:46 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 30 at 10:02 p.m.

Beware: “FRESH” has an insatiable appetite for carnage.

Premiering in the Midnight category of the Sundance Film Festival, the thriller ventures into the darker side of modern dating when a jaded Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) meets Steve (Sebastian Stan), a breath of fresh air in comparison to the problematic men she has met on dating apps. Yet, Steve is not the man he appears to be: The film unveils that his supposed occupation as a plastic surgeon actually involves selling cuts of women’s bodies for consumption by the uber-rich. Director Mimi Cave said she walked the narrow line between humor and twisted darkness in her debut feature film.

“It was all about, for me, ‘How am I going to totally bring this to life?’” Cave said. “(I had to find) that balance of too much here, not enough there (and) really creating those moments where you’re laughing in one moment and the next moment, you’re jumping out of your seat. It was a hard line to toe.”

The idea to write a screenplay about a woman courted and later held captive by a caterer to cannibals is rooted in screenwriter Lauryn Kahn’s ponderings about the lives of the upper echelon, she said. After hearing an anecdote that an astronomically rich man requested to watch someone be murdered in front of him, Kahn said the sick nature of the request stuck with her and sparked the inspiration for “FRESH.”

“There was this idea of this uber-wealth that exists – (and) what brings them joy, when you can have everything?” Kahn said. “Billionaires, they’re not good people at that point, so what is it that they get joy out of? (The film is a) little bit spawned off of that, and this 1% of the 1% – what are they doing?”

Following in line with other works of film and television that combine morally repulsive ideas with bursts of comic relief, such as “Killing Eve” and “Parasite,” Kahn said the film’s twisted themes of kidnapping and cannibalism are offset by moments of levity. From swift wordplay jokes as Noa and Steve consume a slice of breast meat to muttered comments about the typical fates of Black characters in horror movies, Kahn said the movie splices humor with horror.

While the cannibalism premise is fictitious, scenes featuring the realistic and unsettling dangers that women face are grounded in reality. For instance, as Noa walks back from a disastrous first date, she clutches her keys in a clenched fist while a shadowy figure follows her. Later when Steve brings Noa back to his remote abode, he slips something into her drink, drugging her as he prepares to take her as his next captive to be cut and sold.

“When it comes to horror movies for me, I cannot live in the darkness the entire time,” Kahn said. “It’s not fun, it’s not entertaining and it’s just disturbing in a way that I personally don’t enjoy. So I wanted to somehow make a movie that was saying something is scary but not shoving it down your throat unnecessarily.”

Though the holistic film interweaves comedy throughout, it is also distinctly divided into two sections, Cave said, with the former more reminiscent of a romantic comedy and the latter truly delving into horror and gore. To mark this delineation, Cave said she placed the credits 30 minutes in, soon after a drugged Noa lays motionless on the floor at Steve’s mercy. The choice functions as a demarcation for the audience, signaling that they would now be watching a wildly different movie than what they had been led on to believe, Cave said.

(Courtesy of Sundance Institute)
By placing the credits 30 minutes in, Cave said this decision marked the divider between a lighthearted romance and a cannibalistic thriller. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

The juxtaposition between the two chunks of the film, Edgar-Jones said, provided her the ability to express a wide range of emotional states. From the flush of first attraction to Noa’s horror when realizing her new beau has handcuffed her in a cellar, Edgar-Jones said the script’s unpredictable narrative – such as the elegant montage of Steve jubilantly chopping up and packaging human flesh to an upbeat score – keeps viewers on their toes.

“There are no rules to (the script),” Edgar-Jones said. “You never know where it’s going. You’ll be in this really awful scene where Noa is traumatized after finding out she’s locked in this lair and then you hear this soundtrack playing while Steve’s upstairs having the time of his life.”

As for Stan, he said delving into the mindset of a killer with an acquired palate for human flesh required several months of prior research. Stan said he spoke extensively with Dr. Dorothy Lewis, a psychiatrist who interviewed multiple serial killers like Ted Bundy to gain psychological background on what may motivate them.

Yet, while Steve dices up appendages with ease and gushes about how exquisite human flesh tastes, he still believes his lifestyle is ordinary, Kahn said, as he shops at the produce market and lives in a house with a white picket fence. Stan said his role as a charming and suave cannibalism connoisseur emphasizes the film’s overall theme of melding seemingly polar opposites to produce a cohesive whole.

“Humor sometimes helps us process difficult questions and trauma in a better way,” Stan said. “There was a very fine line between that real groundedness that we were seeking, and then the humor component to add to some of (those) darker moments that we were striving to find – and I think we did our best with that.”

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Vivian Xu | Daily Bruin senior staff
Xu is a senior staff writer for Arts & Entertainment. She previously served as the Arts editor from 2021-2022, the Music | Fine Arts editor from 2020-2021 and an Arts reporter from 2019-2020. She is a fourth-year neuroscience and anthropology student from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Xu is a senior staff writer for Arts & Entertainment. She previously served as the Arts editor from 2021-2022, the Music | Fine Arts editor from 2020-2021 and an Arts reporter from 2019-2020. She is a fourth-year neuroscience and anthropology student from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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