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We all know I loved Augustina Bazzterrica’s Tender is the Flesh. It was brutal, yes, but OH. MY. GOD. was that a dystopian horror done correctly. Like, unreal. And that last page? Gurl. You will DIE if you haven’t read that yet. Gut punch? Nah, try a horse kick to the teeth. But I digress, we’re here to talk about Hulu’s Fresh, and see about explaining it.

Fresh feels like a precursor to Tender is the Flesh, a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream. If this film and that book were to exist in the same universe, you wouldn’t think twice about it.

And, going by the Covid-19 conspiracy theories we’ve all just endured, we’d have a pretty good idea about who created the virus that necessitated the cultural shift that Tender is the Flesh explores.

Hulu’s Fresh Explained

Fresh does cannibalism in a… dare I say it?… no don’t be that cringey… stuff it, I’m gonna’… in a fresh way (score!). Not since Hannibal Lector have we seen cannibalism being done in such a culinary focussed way.

Fresh movie explained

This movie is a far stretch away from the rural/folk/hillbilly horror that cannibalism usually lurks within. This is cannibalism for the privileged. The educated. This is cannibalism on Fifth Avenue. $20,000 dollars for a portion of human spleen Bolognese cannibalism.

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Noa (portrayed by Daisy-Edgar Jones) is slogging her way through the modern dating scene with douche guys in abundance (thank you for staying with me Barry because dating looks frightening as fuck nowadays). Steve (portrayed by Sebastian Stan) is the charismatic, “I’m not like those other boys”, cliché that run rampant in 2000’s Rom-Coms…except he’s much, much worse.

In what may be a record for the longest opening for a film (that part of the movie which plays before the title sequence) – rocking in at about 30 minutes – Fresh presents itself as Steve does to Noa, as a typical chance at romance.

Fresh movie explained

With a ridiculous introduction about grapes that taste like cotton candy, and a few vague references to his sister and her kids to show he’s a ‘family man’, Steve does what only exceptionally – and conventionally – attractive men seem to have a power to do to any woman, regardless of her intelligence, in Hollywood, and reel Noa in with spectacular ease. Noa, ignoring the advice Elliot Page gives in Hard Candy, drinks a beverage Steve mixes out of shot, and wakes up chained in the basement.

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Now, when I was joking about privilege and education earlier, I wasn’t being trite, this is a basement that would appear on the cover of Architectural Digest and get about twelve YouTube videos of it on their channel. Art, carpeting, a useable toilet, hell even the chain attached to her manacles looks designer, and this defines Fresh’s approach to its subject matter. We are well beyond cannibalism being a feral trait of monsters concocted in Appalachia, this is Fifth Avenue cannibalism, honey.

Modern Cannibalism

There’s a trend appearing in contemporary horror. One that critiques everything from climate change, to animal welfare rights, to culinary innovation and that’s cannibalism. Gone are the days of half-eaten rotten carcases being consumed by moonlight in a dingy cabin somewhere, Fresh goes to extreme lengths to show the finery that can be doused over modern cuisine, if only our morals would bend enough to allow it.

Fresh is a front-runner in what will develop into academic discussions around the use of cannibalism in contemporary media. From properly quaffed pate, to ornately designed dinner scenes where the main course is cleaved from the body of a woman who was imprisoned in the basement not too long ago, Fresh subverts our understanding of cannibalism through pageantry and pomp.

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Is Fresh a Good Film?

This isn’t to say the movie itself is particularly good. It’s okay. The tension that simmers between Noa and Steve is a testament to Stan and Edgar’s acting prowess. Even as the movie reaches it’s third act and Noa is revolted by Steve, Edgar’s is magnificent in how she switches between love-struck puppy to repulsed woman. Fresh’s ending? Meh. A couple of solid jump scares and an obvious and overdone twist round us off.

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The Woman Unite ending feels a little forced, like the filmmakers pulled their punch when it came to how disfigured the women in Steve’s basement should have been. And there was, of course, the usual faff around phone signals and this bitch wanting to go off on her own, like caaammmaaann, which soured the taste (geddit?) of the film a little.

But while the film itself was mediocre, its position within current horror cinema is forefront and innovative, evoking not only Tender is the Flesh, but also Raw and other extreme horror films. And while those stories go much further than Fresh, neither of them have the star power of mainstream commercial ability to translate these movements into the zeitgeist.

Cannibalism won’t be the same again.

Last Updated on April 8, 2022.

Conner McAleese
Conner McAleese is a current PhD student at the University of Dundee studying 'spaces' in contemporary horror. His debut novel, The Goose Mistress, was published in 2018 by Dark Ink Press and details Eva Braun's experience of World War Two. McAleese now considers himself a horror writer and has had his short stories published in Blood Rites Magazine and Haunting Voices among others. He looks to the 'disturbing' for inspiration, hoping to academically push back the last taboos in literature to analyse what they represent for today's cultural fears and anxieties. However, he hopes to balance this with a satisfying and long career in horror writing. He currently lives in Dundee and is working on his first horror novel.

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