In her directorial debut, Mimi Cave showcases the horrors of dating as a young woman inFresh(2022). With the film premiering on Hulu on March 4th of this year, the beginning of Women’s History Month, Cave’s message is especially poignant. Cave keeps her focus in the modern era of online dating and apps that serve as snapshots of someone’s personality. In this world of fast-paced swiping and easily pinpointed personality archetypes, main character Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) finds herself incredibly overwhelmed.
Noa relays to her friend Mollie (Jonica T. Gibbs) that she’s officially fed up with trying to date men in her nondescript city, and the two of them commiserate over how predictably misogynistic they all seem to be. The viewer watches Noa swipe through a dating app, and men of all styles and hobbies fly by her screen. Some of them are in their forties, indicating they set their preferences to women in their twenties, which is alarming. Some of them are holding fish while standing on a boat, which Noa interprets as someone who is probably rural and therefore will have old-fashioned beliefs about women. Some of them are like Chad (Brett Dier), Noa’s date from the opening of the movie who portrays himself with a gilded sensitivity.
All of these men ring an alarm bell in Noa’s mind, alerting her that in one way or another, they are likely disrespectful towards women. In fact, when she does give one contender a chance, he immediately sends a nude picture of himself. During this dating app scene, the room is completely dark, and Noa’s face is illuminated only by the light of her phone screen. This choice of lighting is Mimi Cave visually dictating to the audience that these frustrating encounters are the main thesis of the plot, consuming Noa’s every thought.
These warning signs bleed into the real world, and Noa serves as a conduit for the dangers that all women face, even when they put away their phone. While on her way to her car at night, Noa senses someone walking behind her, and the camera highlights her maneuvering keys between her fingers. This is a common tactic that young women learn to protect themselves when they are otherwise unarmed. It’s second nature to be prepared to utilize anything as a weapon and be able to improvise in this way. Noa walks a little faster to her car, and in her panic, drops her keys. The man behind her approaches closer, but in the street light, he appears to be a father with his baby, severely lessening the threat. This is the first demonstration that even with all of her “training” as a young woman living alone in the city, not all of Noa’s instincts are correct.
After nine and half minutes of exploring Noa’s lifestyle, we meet Steve (Sebastian Stan) while they both peruse produce at the grocery store. They have a meet cute as Steve charms Noa with cotton candy grapes and cheesy pick up lines. In comparison to the men Noa is accustomed to, Steve is entirely different. He dresses in neutral colors and is well-groomed. He wears no accessories and is completely clean shaven. When utilizing the same fine-tuned form of judgment needed to navigate through a sea of suitors, Steve comes off as entirely inoffensive.
The pair hit it off so well that Noa feels safe and comfortable enough to invite him to her apartment after the first date. Steve decides not to sleep with her on the first day, and in doing so, sets off a paradoxical reaction from Noa. Expecting sex on the first date is perceived as predetory, so Steve deciding to slow things down suggests a sense of respect with which Noa isn’t familiar. This, in turn, makes Noa even more attracted to Steve and makes Steve seem even more trustworthy.
Their love story takes the reins over the film. For about half an hour, unsuspecting viewers are swept off their feet with a quaint love story. However, when Steve invites Noa to a weekend getaway, the tone of the film dramatically shifts into that of a thrilling horror story.
Steve’s jaw-dropping transition from love interest into antagonist leaves Noa in an anxious state of shock. Edgar-Jones’ performance implores empathy from viewers as Noa contemplates how she could have possibly ended up in her position. The exposition portion ofFresh(2022) works hard to highlight how careful Noa, and therefore all women in her position, have to be in order to survive on their own. One must trust her instincts even at the risk of judging someone too quickly. Despite Noa’s best efforts, Steve weaponizes these instincts and is able to lure her and countless young women into his traps.
Mimi Cave is not telling a love story nor is she telling a cautionary tale against men.Fresh(2022) is Cave’s contribution to the conversation regarding the patriarchy dipping its finger in as many aspects of modern life as possible; in this case, it’s dating.
Cave utilizes food as a recurring theme in her film. Although food and consumption foreshadow the Big Twist, they also symbolize the intentions and characteristics of the characters. In the opening scene, while Noa is on her disappointing date with Chad, she fixates on his scarf dragging through his noodles after he chastises her way of dress. The stain on his scarf follows what Noa perceives to be a stain on the date.
Additionally, Noa and Steve’s first scene together in the produce section of the grocery store emphasizes their organic meeting in an otherwise digital atmosphere. Thus, just as fruit and vegetables rot, so did the connection between the main characters. Men are constantly eating in this film, which is Cave’s main method of communicating the real problem with the patriarchal mindset in the dating scene: men would rather consume women than see them as equals.