Growing up, I didn’t think I was allowed to like horror. It was a genre I kept to myself. It was hard to love sometimes, knowing that a patriarchal lens was behind the camera. With women directing more horror, gone are the days when a sexualized woman runs for her life and her screams are her only line in the entire film. The fears we women live with every day are influencing the genre in a way I never thought was possible.
Most of the time, horror movies are too slow or the scare doesn’t make me jump fast enough. A horror film needs to make me extremely uncomfortable. Not just covering my eyes or jumping once in a blue moon (werewolf not included). I’m talking about tense muscles, moments of dissociation from the realities of what’s manifesting on screen. Goosebumps that make you pause a movie, do a little dance to shake off the tenseness, just in case your body remembers the fear and brings it into your subconscious. Hulu’s Fresh does exactly that and it’s my new nightmare.
Fear of Kidnapping
Being kidnapped is scary enough but Fresh adds organ trafficking into the mix. And, it’s not the Squid Game black market, where losing players’ organs are sold for medical purposes (and at least, maybe do some good). No, Fresh takes organ trafficking one step further with cannibalism. Where a psychopath, played creepingly well by Sebastian Stan, targets women. He gets them to believe he’s a normal guy who ironically claims to be a vegetarian when he says, “I don’t eat animal meat.” After love-bombing his victims, he drugs them, takes them to a cabin in the woods, and sells their meat to the top one percent.
For the first thirty minutes, the film tricks you into thinking it’s just another creepy date thriller. In fact, you don’t see the title sequence until about thirty minutes in, an interesting marker that the movie really turns into what it’s meant to be at the start of act two. Tricked into believing this manipulating man, Noa (played by Daisy Edgar Jones) tries everything she can to escape. Including the most reliable survival technique, faking Stockholm Syndrome. Come to find that in some weird twisted fate, Stan’s character Steve tends to fall in love with some of his victims and Noa isn’t the only woman Steve falls for. We later meet his other Stockholm Syndrome victim, and this white woman is no ally.
The Horrors of Dating
When we first meet Noa, she’s on that first date we’ve all had, the one where you think the worse will be over after you give a light rejection. Instead, in a totally relatable turn of events, Noa gets that backlash monologue from her date. Following this narcissistic outburst, she walks alone to her car; her keys as a weapon between her fingers. The subtle hint of fear triggering a collective sense of horror for every woman watching. Unfortunately for Noa, this is only the beginning. Even after getting kidnapped, Noa knows it can get worse, asking Steve if he’s going to rape her. Another realistic fear, subtly inserted into a disorienting scene.
Noa is not alone in her online dating experiences, though, she confides in a very loyal friend. It did raise a red flag ready when I saw that Noa’s best friend is Black. While advances in the horror realm are giving opportunities for women to tell their stories, women of color are still being cast as the token side characters. Mollie, played by Jojo T. Gibbs, knows something is off with Noa’s new man. As much as I’d like to see myself as the Mollie going out of her way to save her friend, the reality is, we can all end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. While I don’t think it’s the responsibility of the character of color to always know what’s up, Jojo T. Gibbs’ portrayal of Mollie made her my favorite character.
Horror Mirrors Reality
I’m noticing a trend in horror. Whether it’s an emotionally abusive relationship that takes us on a cult farm in Midsommar, to a vengeful friend whose fate matches her own bestie in Promising Young Woman, the horrors that arise from women’s worst-case relationships with men are finally being explored. My only concern is that the message isn’t coming across for men. How much of it is still a fetish, finding something sexy in the victimized woman? How are the men being held accountable? I found it interesting that the body parts being sold and eaten in Fresh were the most objectifying—legs, ass, breast. As if looking and harassing women isn’t enough, let’s eat the thing we fetishize the most. I was just waiting for someone to order a foot! I mean this was the first time a film teased the sense of phantom limb and it made me think twice about prosciutto.
While I never thought my fantasy of meeting someone at a grocery store would be officially ruined by Sebastian Stan, I truly hope the silver lining is that women are now able to take the horrors of online dating and use their collective experience as art. Is it ironic that horror is the genre for that art? I think it’s telling of the state of the world and how women continue to survive it. What would we do if we had one night of guaranteed safety? Some women say simply to go for a walk. Alone. Perhaps at night, without the need to hold our keys as weapons. After watching Fresh? Perhaps a date where the rationalized fear of getting slowly murdered isn’t on the menu. While I love my horror to leave me squirming uncomfortably, I wish the fears we carry as women weren’t as real as they appear on screen.