I highly recommend watching this movie before reading this (or anything else) about it. It’s a wild one, and I think even watching the trailer before seeing it could impact the rollercoaster ride that is Fresh. So I’m throwing up an additional spoiler warning here: it’s on Hulu in the US and Disney+ in the UK (as of March 20, 2022) go and watch it before proceeding!
I didn’t even know where to begin with this write up, because there’s just so much depth to the film. After talking with someone about it, and finding out they didn’t care for it, I’ve decided to respond to their primary criticism: “it’s just a rape revenge movie without the rape.” This is almost criminally reductive, and though this isn’t a critique that’s been widespread, there’s at least one person for whom this was the takeaway and I feel the need to challenge that.
Setting aside the fact that rape revenge stories are not all the same and don’t carry the same themes, ideas or aesthetics (see for example the differences between Irreversible and I Spit on Your Grave—arguably the most well known of the sub-genre), Fresh most significantly diverges from rape revenge films with the inclusion of Steve’s wife, Ann, as a character and secondary antagonist. Through Ann, the power structures in our society are more thoroughly explored. It’s clear that one doesn’t have to be a cis man to perpetuate and uphold patriarchy. The exploitation of women isn’t just something that cis men are responsible for maintaining. Women, particularly white cis straight women, many of whom have been negatively impacted by it (as we later see, Ann was likely one of Steve’s prior victims) carve out their own place within this power structure, rather than resisting it. It’s likely no accident that Ann resembles a Fox News contributor; she’s an attractive, thin, white blonde woman, and she actively defends the patriarchy—right up to her brutal death. Ann presents the “I worked my way up” attitude, and as a result works to keep other women down. I take issue with how her arch is resolved, but I’ll get into that later. Nevertheless, her existence and role in this narrative creates a significantly more thorough and well-rounded critique of societal treatment of women, such that reducing this film to “just a rape revenge,” is offensively dismissive.
There’s also a twofold reading on the inclusion of Paul, who is a Black man, a bartender and a friend of Mollie’s. He provides some good comedic relief, specifically as he travels to Mollie’s phone location: talking to himself about having seen this horror movie before, ultimately turning around and leaving when he pulls up to the house. The struggles between the women at the house are cut together with Paul’s arrival and refusal to participate. This is both funny, as well as a critique of horror films. For decades, Black people had been killed off quickly in the genre, so Paul’s best chance at survival is to exit the film as soon as possible. We never see him again after he drives off. His line “nah fuck this shit,” is funny, but also reminds us of what’s required for him to survive. But his departure also brings to mind his occupation. He has very clear reason to believe that Mollie, an ex of his he’s still holding a flame for, and Noa, are in danger in this house, but he turns and leaves thereby enabling predatory male behavior. Paul’s actions are no different than a lot of bartenders all across the country probably every night. As a bartender, Paul facilitates Mollie and Steve’s encounter, and when Steve becomes a danger to Mollie, Paul abandons her. His job adds to that conversation. He’s not just a man and an enabler, but is also uniquely positioned to intervene, yet he does not.
When Paul leaves, he leaves the women to fend for themselves, which they absolutely do, but not without a significant fight. At first, in the kitchen when Noa, Mollie and Penny attack Steve, I was reminded of Death Proof. But due to their injuries, which are significant, Steve manages to hold his own, and it becomes a prolonged battle of wills. It’s such a scrappy sequence, and it really feels like every character is fighting for their life—which of course they are. But Steve just won’t die. They make it outside and he chases them down, shooting his gun and verbally threatening them. Despite all of their injuries, they ultimately they manage to take him down and shoot him in the face. They save themselves, without Paul’s help.
There’s an amazing scene where Noa is talking with Penny through the vent in the wall between their rooms, and she tells Penny about how stupid she feels. I love this scene because it ends with Penny telling her that no, it’s not her fault: “it’s always their fault.” This is an indictment of patriarchy at large, and a common retort to the standard “what was she wearing,” question that follows rape or sexual assault allegations. It is always cis men’s fault. I even found myself thinking, “oh come on, Noa, you should know better,” during the first act—the straight forward rom-com section. This attitude essentially places the blame on her, and ignores the fact that she’s the victim in the situation.
Unfortunately, the ending takes a little away from this sentiment. Though it’s funny to hear Mollie shout: “bitches like you are the fucking problem,” while bashing Ann’s head in with a shovel, it confuses the essential message of the film. While it’s true that some women act in ways that uphold patriarchal values, it’s not true that they are THE problem. Just as Black cops uphold white supremacy, they aren’t THE problem. I wish that Penny’s statement about how it’s never our fault had been echoed yet again towards the end of the film, rather than making Ann out to come off as “the big bad.”
I wish that the film had split the fight with Steve in the kitchen and then in the woods up, and inserted the fight with Ann in between the two. Steve is unconscious on the kitchen floor; Ann and their employee discover him; Ann goes out and gets beat down with a shovel; Steve comes to, and goes outside shooting his gun and shouting at the girls; he’s then beaten down. At which point Penny could yell something at him right before he’s shot like, “this is all your fault” or something—restating the essential theme of the film, which is that patriarchy is fucked and it’s cis men who are the problem—rather than undermining it with Ann’s death.
Nevertheless, this is an absolutely phenomenal movie that’ll make you laugh and then it’ll make you feel uncomfortable for laughing. I absolutely loved the way that Fresh blends absolute terror with cheeky comedy and layers into its depths serious gender politics and critiques. Fresh manages to terrify, grip and amuse, mixing together bitter with salty and sweet, like a piece of bacon dipped in dark chocolate—it shouldn’t taste so good, but it does. It really does.
3 thoughts on “Fresh (2022)”
[…] to the horror genre over the past few years (Julia Ducournau’s Raw & Titane, Mimi Cave’s Fresh, Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space, Brandon Chronenberg’s Possessor, to name a few), so it […]
i agree, that fresh is filled with a depth that distinguishes it from its fellows but i think that’s what makes it a unique take on the rape revenge category rather than a whole different category. the violation isn’t as physical as you might expect going into it (i know how this sounds, it’s literal cannibals but hear me out). what made this horror such a fresh take to me was the lack of gratuitous torture/gore and its depiction of the way women are/can be harmed. it isn’t exclusively through physical violence but also the behaviors that allow that violence to grow and fester.
your argument for ann and paul as characters that move the film in a different direction is sound but i think these characters also add to the violation that our main characters experience. both by involvement and lack thereof. ann doesn’t owe the final girls solidarity, and yet it is expected after the revelation of her victimhood that she may sympathize and want to help them escape. ann moving from victim to wife, having first hand experience with what it’s like to be on the chopping block and still becoming an active participant in steve’s world is a betrayal to what noa, penny, melissa, mollie, and the others had to endure. it’s hard to ignore when the solidarity between the final girls is what saves them in the end. it’s also what makes paul’s ability to separate himself from the situation hard to watch. he’s so close to helping at multiple turns and ultimately decides it’s not worth sticking around when having 1 able bodied person on their side (with a car no less) would have made all the difference. it makes me wonder about the difference in the men and women’s willingness to intervene when someone needs help in this movie.
though i haven’t seen many rape revenge movies, i can’t say i completely disagree with the critic’s assessment. i would only add that despite your strong opposition to the categorization, i think your review did a really great job of giving as much weight to fresh being a reinvention of the rape revenge movie as it counters.
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Thanks so much for this thoughtful reply!
I don’t necessarily disagree with any of the places where our readings diverge—in fact, I think the validity of both only adds to how much of love this movie. There’s so much in it. That it can be read in multiple ways only adds to its brilliance, in my opinion.
Re: the rape revenge stuff…I think my primary issue with that critique, that I used as a jumping off point for my write up, was the person saying something like “it’s just a rape revenge movie.” As if 1) rape revenge movies are oversaturating the market [I don’t think they are] and 2) as if they’re all the same.
Sorting Fresh into that sub-genre is perfectly reasonable, I just felt this person wasn’t engaging meaningfully, and rather using that as a way of dismissing the whole thing.
Thanks again for reading and sharing your thoughts!