Movie Review: What ‘Fresh’ Hell is This?!

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Fresh (CREDIT: Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved)

Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan, Jonica T. Gibbs, Charlotte Le Bon, Dayo Okeniyi, Andrea Bang, Brett Dier

Director: Mimi Cave

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: R for Plenty of Blood and a Decent Amount of Flesh

Release Date: March 4, 2022 (Hulu)

Where do monsters exist in today’s society? If you look to Fresh for the answer to that question, you’ll be met with some terrifying, exhilarating results. To wit: modern dating sucks, but also: what’s in our food? It’s a lot to keep track of for someone who wants to live both deliciously and ethically!

For Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), she’s endured enough epically bad dates that you could easily imagine a Netflix exec hitting her up out of the blue and giving her carte blanche to produce whatever she wants out of all that raw material. Somehow, though, she’s actually in a headspace to accept a proposition in the grocery produce aisle. That’s where she meets a charming fellow by the name of Steve (Sebastian Stan), and next thing you know, they’re heading off for a weekend away together. This is the exact sort of meet-cute that tends to only happen in the movies, and everyone involved in making Fresh is trying to convince us that it should stay that way.

This is the point in my review in which I tell my readers that I am going to do my best to avoid specifics from here on out, as this is the sort of movie that works hard to keep its premise under wraps. The opening credits don’t even arrive until about a half hour in. (Perhaps starting a bit of a trendlet in that regard alongside Drive My Car.) I knew that the scares were coming, but if you go in completely cold, you might think that this is just a cynical comedy about the Tinder era. But everything is just edgy enough, and the colors are rendered in such vivid, bloody detail, that you can probably sense the horror lurking. But is it Noa or Steve pulling the strings as the puppetmaster behind it all?

Like so much great horror, Fresh zeroes in on an  examination of people who live beyond the morals of civilized society. It’s despicable, but also intoxicating to those who lap up these visions of monstrousness. I almost found myself rooting for Noa and Steve to end up together despite the massive degree of exploitation at the core of their connection, even as I was also rooting for the captive to escape in a cathartic turning of the tables. Rest assured, that comeuppance will come, and it will be glorious. In the meantime, we can revel in the bloody beauty from the safety of our viewing devices and maybe learn a thing or two about keeping that darkness cooped up where it belongs.

Fresh is Recommended If You Like: Raw, Promising Young Woman, American Psycho, Get Out, NBC’s Hannibal

Grade: 4 out of 5 Slices

This Is a Movie Review: The Promise

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This review was originally published on News Cult in April 2017.

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale

Director: Terry George

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Acknowledging Crimes of Humanity Against Humanity

Release Date: April 21, 2017

This February’s Bitter Harvest strove for epic love against the real-life backdrop of the Soviet Ukrainian famine of the 1930’s. The effort to shine a light on an oft-ignored chapter in history was admirable, but the tame dramatization resulted in a less-than-memorable story. The Promise operates by much the same principles of historical examination but ends up with something more compelling, thanks to a more complicated romantic scenario. The setting in this case is especially relevant: the World War I-era systematic extermination of Armenians within the Ottoman Empire, which the Turkey (Ottoman’s successor) to this day refuses to refer to as “genocide.” If shots of fleeing Armenians can stir up empathy for today’s refugees, then The Promise will prove its worth in at least one way.

Furthering the Bitter Harvest comparison, The Promise is the latest in a long line of American-produced historical epics with questionable casting. There are some Armenians and Turks among the supporting cast, but the main players consist of a mix of Guatemalan (Oscar Isaac), Iranian (Shohreh Aghdashloo), and French Canadian (Charlotte Le Bon, although at least in her case she is playing an Armenian raised in Paris). Even the main American is played by a Welsh-Englishman!

I am not systematically opposed to an actor’s ethnicity not matching up with the character, but when a movie is about the attempted destruction of an entire people, and only one of the principal roles is played by a member of that people (Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan), the optics do not look great. Isaac’s accent work is solid, and he brings so much decency to his performance such that his lack of Middle Eastern heritage does not detract from the film’s overall quality. Still, it is worth considering this issue from a business and humanistic standpoint.

The Promise illuminates how emotional and familial well-being are insignificant but also essential in the face of widespread disaster. The synopses I have encountered have billed this as a love triangle, but it is really more of a quadrangle. Armenian villager Mikael (Isaac) moves to Constantinople for medical school, which he can afford thanks to the dowry he receives after agreeing to marry fellow villager Maral (Sarafyan). While in school, he meets and falls in love with Ana (Le Bon). She quite passionately reciprocates his feelings, though she is married to American journalist Chris (Bale).

As war breaks out, the story takes a turn toward labor camps, escapes under cover of night, and attempts to flee the country. The romantic rivals are allies in the greater struggle of exposing the truth and rescuing their loved ones. Isaac conveys the burden and resolve of a man bound by duty that is at odds with his once-in-a-lifetime romance. When he and Bale share the screen, the tension is riveting – you are never sure if they will punch or hug each other. This is the struggle of an existence driven by both emotions and morals. When humanity – both the principle and the population – is threatened with extinction, living right and living passionately still must find a way.

The Promise is Recommended If You Like: Atonement, Titanic, Saving Private Ryan

Grade: 3 out of 5 Sacrifices