Spoiler Alert: When it comes to a movie like “Fresh,” there’s a legitimate question as to what constitutes a spoiler. Much depends on what a reader knows about the movie before reading the review. Anyone who’s been paying attention won’t be surprised by a key reveal in this review. However, if you want to approach “Fresh” from a fresh perspective (pardon the pun), it would be best to turn away now. However, if you are aware of hook/twist, feel free to read on.
The moral of this story is that it’s a bad idea to date someone you meet in the produce aisle of the supermarket.
The structure of Costs is designed to mislead. The film opens with a too long prologue. With a running time of around 30 minutes, it is intended to trick the viewer into thinking they are watching a romantic melodrama. With the exception of a briefly flashed dick pic, this could be something made for Lifetime TV. By the time of the opening credits (at the aforementioned half-hour), the movie has completely tricked us into thinking it’s something it’s not. That’s when screenwriter Lauryn Kahn and first director Mimi Cave pivot down a considerably darker and more gruesome aisle. Sparkling melodrama gives way to Grand Guignol.
The most surprising thing about Costs it is that, given the audacity of the concept, the filmmakers succeed. The contrast between the mundane normality of an ordinary person’s life and the monstrosity of what lurks just below the surface is evident not only in Sebastian Stan’s performance, but also in the camerawork and set design. The film exists at the intersection of different worlds and genres: the romantic comedy bleeding into the horror, the “1% of 1%” exploiting ordinary hard workers. Cave goes overboard with some of the close-ups and edits, but those are stylistic quibbles.
The film begins with a bad date that eventually leads to a cute encounter at the grocery store. Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is fed up with dating. The guys she meets are scary and she doesn’t like the artificiality of the learning phase. So when she meets Steve (Sebastian Stan) in the produce section, she doesn’t know what to think of him. He’s funny, witty, and doesn’t push too hard for his phone number (which she gives him after only a little nudge). A first date leads to a second and soon they are in bed together planning an impromptu getaway. Noa’s best friend, Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs), wonders if Steve is too good to be true (she considers his lack of social media presence a “red flag”), but she’s happy for his friend.
During the holidays, Noa learns that Steve has a darker aspect…a a lot darker look. It turns out he’s the go-between for an elite clientele of ultra-rich cannibals who like their meat fresh. Since Steve shares their tastes and has the surgical skills to slaughter human bodies, he’s become a key supplier. He specializes in young women. Preferring those with no ties (no stable family, husband, or boyfriend), he charms, drugs, and chains them in a secluded location, removing limbs and other body parts as necessary to fill various commands.
Although Costs contains serious elements and does not skimp on the gore (we see several scenes of Steve at work), the tone is that of a black comedy. In some elements, the film offers what could be perceived as a satirical riff on Fifty shades of Grey, except in this case, the handsome rich man’s secret is a little more intimidating than a little S&M. Although Sebastian Stan doesn’t necessarily look like Jamie Dornan (he’s closer to a young Jack Lord), Daisy Edgar-Jones could be Dakota Johnson’s younger sister.
One of the strongest aspects of the film is the character interaction between Noa and Steve. Since the movie is mostly presented from Noa’s point of view, we get a glimpse of her feelings and understand when she’s faking it. But Steve is an opaque puzzle. Even when he has a woman chained up in his dungeon and he’s already operated on her, he continues to converse as if they’re just hanging out. He tries to convince his victims to relax and accept their difficulties. The film features a subplot involving his wife that is too truncated to be effective. (Looks like some of that material, which features French actress Charlotte Le Bon, might have ended up on the floor of the editing room.)
Some plot elements are reminiscent of Jennifer (David’s daughter) Lynch’s controversial 1993 feature film, Boxing Helenin which a surgeon first amputates the legs and then the arms of the main character (played by a post-twin peaks Sherilyn Fenn). There’s more than a little of that going on in Costs and Cave makes sure the film deserves its R rating by showing gruesome cuts, albeit with a tongue-in-cheek approach to how those scenes are shot. The film also plays around with the concept of the male hero arriving just in time to rescue damsels in distress. The closer one looks, the more obvious it is that Costs does not know the meaning of the term “sacred cow”. I don’t for a moment think the film has widespread, mainstream appeal (hence Disney-owned Searchlight Pictures’ decision to bypass theatrical distribution in favor of a Hulu premiere), but for those who love stews that mix warped comedy and twisted horror, it hits the spot. And what is a bit of cannibalism between friends, after all?
Fees (US, 2022)