When I was a university student, some of my favorite days were the ones when we watched a film in class and discussed it afterwards. Since BPU doesn’t have a physical classroom, I’ll just invite you to watch the new Hulu film, Fresh - directed by Mimi Cave - in your own space and invite you to leave comments if you want. Content warning: the movie portrays cannibalism and gendered violence.
This film is all about bodies - and that’s why I decided it definitely deserved some conversation in today’s newsletter.
Below is an essay I wrote after I’d watched it myself. There are spoilers.
Actor Sebastian Stan plays Steve, an entrepreneurial serial killer in Fresh. Steve is trolling for solitary women on the dating scene whom he kidnaps and holds captive, keeping them alive for as long as possible, while harvesting their flesh for a network of wealthy cannibals.
Steve is the cultural ideal of a straight man. He has the “right” kind of body. He is white, athletic, slender, and able-bodied. He’s also charming, energetic and a doctor. He sets his sights on Noa (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones), a straight woman who likewise has the “right” kind of body, but (unlike Steve) is visibly exhausted from terrible dating app dates.
I saw that physical exhaustion - basically resignation - in Noa and felt it in my bones. I remember that feeling: of being worn down by my interactions with straight men during my periods of singlehood. I remember imagining, on more than one occasion, that these men were circling like vultures just above my head, waiting until their horrible behavior finally did force me to surrender to their will and their appetite for a domesticated, disciplined and dispirited feminine body.
Arguably, Noa’s guard is down for this very reason (the aforementioned exhaustion) when she meets corny ass Steve in a grocery store.
They go on one or maybe two dates, and then all of a sudden he suggests going away together for a few days. Noa’s best friend, Mollie (played by Jojo T. Gibb), is rightfully suspicious and tries to discourage her from going in too quickly. Noa is too happy (relieved?) to be in a love story to heed this advice. When they arrive at their destination, Noa is rapidly drugged and wakes up in handcuffs. Before long she’s gotten an epidural and a piece of her butt is being surgically removed by Steve.
In film, cannibalism and eating can be a metaphor, usually a cultural critique. Throughout the history of media, people in power have been portrayed as eating people with less power. In Fresh, the metaphor about how heteromasculinity predates upon feminine people, consuming feminine spirits, souls and, yes, bodies.
Here’s where my read on the film probably diverges from the director’s intent.
One of the ways that the culture at large - and yes, heteromasculinity in particular - cannibalizes feminine bodies is through fatphobia and diet culture. Straight men have more power than almost anyone culturally, and are therefore able to make demands on the bodies of those who want to be close to them. In dating, in particular, the thin ideal can become highly toxic because it’s connected to access to love.
Diet culture is a form of cannibalism (IMHO). Socially incentivizing someone to eat less is arguably a form of cannibalism because it creates a situation where the body will eat away at itself over a period of time (i.e. weight cycling). No one is technically eating our flesh, but under diet culture there are social rules in place that incentivize the removal or loss of flesh. Not to mention the ways that diet culture and fatphobia eat away at the soul, the mind and human access to joy and pleasure.
We watch Noa toss caution to the wind because her desire - its own type of appetite or hunger - for a meaningful relationship overcomes her drive to create safety for herself. This is also deeply relatable, and maps onto the ways that diet culture forces us into a hunger-induced mental state that can be self-destructive.
You’ll have to watch to see how the film ends.
I’ve always loved horror movies because I see them as the most honest portrayals of our culture. To me, Fresh offers truer commentary on straight romance than any rom com or drama ever will.
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Leave your hot takes in the comments.