Sundance 2022: ‘FRESH’ mixes comedy and cannibalism in a new horror film
Warning: “FRESH” has an insatiable appetite for carnage.
First in the Midnight category of the Sundance Film Festival 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 from the problematic men she met on dating apps. However, Steve is not the man he seems to be: the film reveals that his supposed profession of plastic surgeon consists in fact of selling cuts of women’s bodies for consumption by the wealthy. As director Mimi Cave’s feature debut, Cave said she walked a tight tightrope between humor and twisted darkness.
“It was, for me, ‘how am I going to bring this to life?'” Cave said. “(I had to find) that balance between too much here, not enough there (and) really creating those moments where you’re laughing one moment and the next moment you’re jumping out of your seat. It was a hard line to walk. .
The idea of writing a screenplay about a woman courted and then held captive by a cannibal handler is rooted in screenwriter Lauryn Kahn’s reflections on upper echelon life, she said. After hearing an anecdote that an astronomically wealthy man asked to see someone murdered in front of him, Kahn said the sick nature of the request stayed with her and sparked the inspiration for “FRESH.”
“There was this idea of this super-wealth that exists – (and) what brings them joy, when you can have it all?” said Kahn. “Billionaires, they’re not good people at this point, so what do they get joy from? (The movie is a) bit born out of that, and that 1% of the 1% – what do they do ?
In line with other film and television works that combine morally repugnant ideas with bursts of comic relief, like “Killing Eve” and “Parasite,” Kahn said the film’s twisted themes of kidnapping and cannibalism are offset by moments of levity. From fast pun jokes as Noa and Steve consume a slice of breast meat to mumble comments about the typical fate of black characters in horror films, Kahn said the film mixes humor with horror .
While the cannibalism premise is fictional, the scenes depicting the realistic and unsettling dangers women face are grounded in reality. For example, As Noa returns from a disastrous first date, she clutches her keys in a closed fist as a shadowy figure follows her. Later, when Steve takes 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.
“As far as horror movies go for me, I can’t live in darkness all the 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 kind of wanted to make a movie that said something is scary, but without pushing it down your throat unnecessarily.
While the holistic film mixes comedy throughout, it’s also distinctly split 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 that delineation, Cave said she placed the credits 30 minutes later, shortly after a drugged Noa lay motionless on the floor at Steve’s mercy. The choice works as a demarcation for audiences, signaling that they would now be watching a very different film than they had been led to believe, Cave said.
The juxtaposition between the two pieces of the film, Edgar-Jones said, gave him the ability to express a wide range of emotional states. From the brilliance of the first attraction to Noa’s horror when she realizes her new pal has handcuffed her in a basement, Edgar-Jones said the script’s unpredictable narrative – like the sleek editing of Steve gleefully chopping and wrapping human flesh to an upbeat score – keeps viewers on their toes.
“There are no rules for (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 up in this lair and then you hear this soundtrack play while Steve is upstairs having the best time of his life.
As for Stan, he said immersing himself in the mindset of a killer with a palate acquired for human flesh required months of research beforehand. Stan said he spoke at length with Dr. Dorothy Lewis, a psychiatrist who has interviewed several serial killers like Ted Bundy to gain psychological insight into what can motivate them.
Yet while Steve easily dices appendages and gushes with the exquisite taste of human flesh, 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. As a charming and suave connoisseur of cannibalism, Stan said his role emphasizes the film’s overall theme of melding seemingly polar opposites to produce a cohesive whole.
“Humor sometimes helps us process difficult issues and trauma better,” Stan said. “There was a very fine line between that real grounding that we were looking for and then the humorous component to add to some of (those) darker moments that we were trying to find – and I think we did our best with that.”