This post contains light spoilers for “Fresh”, a 2022 movie now streaming on Hulu
I don’t know what it is with introverts and psychological thrillers, but I swear there’s a deep-rooted, primal attraction between the two. Long before I had grasped what the term ‘psychological thriller’ even entailed, I was consuming them like a maniac, everything from classics to modern productions—Psycho to Gone Girl, Shock Corridor to I’m Thinking of Ending Things. As I spent nights sinking deeper into these ominous worlds, it started to have an almost psychoactive effect on me. I realized—I’ve got a taste for it now.
But here’s the thing—it’s ridiculously easy for this genre to get stale. The overarching outline is elementary: grey characters with warped perceptions, a generous sprinkling of obsession, a doomed relationship between a pathological character and a victim, acceleration of delusion and paranoia, and an ill-fated tragedy with blood on someone’s hands—literally, or metaphorically, or both. So how does a psychological thriller keep things fresh in 2022?
Well, Fresh somehow manages to. Don’t get me wrong—the aforementioned, saturated plot tropes are sprinkled through the movie. But even in those moments, there’s a new flavor or two. Maybe, it’s the placement of a shot, or the props occupying focal point, or the use of music or lack thereof, or the flow of the conversation—there is almost always clever deflection or reinvention to not make it unsavory to digest. But where Fresh really spruces things up is in between the spaces of the tried and tested traits.
Fundamentally, the movie explores the horrors of modern dating with an arguably feminist, arguably life-affirming, most definitely bloody lens. It follows a newly-dating but barely-acquainted couple—Steve (Sebastian Stan) and Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones). After a horrific date with a different guy, Noa meets Steve in a supermarket, and there’s an immediate, awkward, charming, and fearless synergy between them. When it comes to dating and love, people often say—when it’s right, it’s right. Or at least Noa tells herself that. But unfortunately for her, just when she thinks the horrors of modern dating are behind her, they get scarily close to her face and stare right into her naïve eyes.
Stating that director Mimi Cave and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski devise a visual language that infinitely uplifts the plot would be undercutting their due. They not only sprinkle new spices here and there, but methodically and patiently sear scenes on a pan with these spices for maximum taste.
There’s a sequence an hour and a half into the movie when Noa and Steve are in the middle of a ‘dinner date’, consuming breast meat. In this peculiar moment, Noa cracks a silly joke— “you saved the breast for the last’, at which Steve chuckles. Mimi Cave lets the moment stew and settle, letting you believe that you’re third wheeling on a cute date between two people who profoundly enjoy each other’s company, and are enjoying a hearty meal. The succulent interplay of the visual and narrative language in this sequence perfectly encapsulates the dilemma of taste and distaste, humour and horror, beautiful and grisly for me. It’s when the film is treading ever so magnificently on this tightrope, that it’s the most fulfilling to watch.
What captivated me about Flesh even more is the use of food as a prominent character to chop and shape the story. When a dish as appetizing as pâté with rosemary and garlic is presented, it’s tempting to be tempted and be overwhelmed with tempestuousness. It brings to mind the cinematic universe of NBC’s Hannibal—the façade of elegance to cover up the grotesque. But this very dilemma lends to the effectiveness of the film’s visual language—the fact that the movie is colored in this warm, retro film grade, makes it even more palatable. The food is nicely prepared and beautifully presented, the red wine pours effortlessly, and the two lead characters are attractive and decked up. It’s easy to excuse the cannibal jokes and the bodies in the freezers and the bodies on their plates and the high-ceiling bungalow of torture. The movie will end terribly, but for a moment, there’s beauty to breathe in.
You could argue this very seduction is manipulation. But most art inevitably is. You could also argue about whether revenge is the best form of justice—but you have to communicate in the language of the film and the genre, not your own. The social implications of finding beauty in heinousness are manifold. But that’s the beauty of art—there are no consequences, no set boundaries. So, before you put Fresh on, make sure you come hungry and indulge in the aroma that will be fanned your way. You might find it disgusting. Or you might develop a taste for it.