There are many things that your friends will ask when you start seeing someone new but the one guaranteed question will always be: "Can I see a photo?" The common response to this request is to hand over an Instagram handle and hope they don’t scroll back to the 2012 #yolo posts. But what happens when your new boo doesn’t frequent social media, and is it a good or bad thing? This conundrum forms the basis of new comedic horror Fresh, which follows Normal People’s Daisy Edgar-Jones on her quest to find the perfect match.
The film opens in a car park as Noa (Edgar-Jones) calls her best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs) to discuss her uncertainty about an upcoming Tinder date. Eventually deciding to persevere, we watch as Noa arrives for dinner and is forced to listen to a barrage of misogynistic comments about the good ol’ days when women dressed like women (this coming from a man wearing a raggedy scarf that dips into his food). When the evening finally draws to a close, Noa politely informs Chad (yup) that she didn’t feel a connection, which of course leads to him chastising her for being both rude and unattractive.
As she walks to her car, keys clutched in hand, it's tempting to shake your head at this familiar cocktail of a date gone wrong and the subsequent fear for your basic safety. It's this exhaustion with the modern dating complex that makes Noa’s next encounter so noteworthy. Browsing the fresh fruit section in her local supermarket, a handsome stranger strikes up a conversation about the different varieties of grape. Awkward, cute and funny, the interaction is miles away from Noa’s experience with dating apps and results in a sweet exchange of numbers with Steve (Sebastian Stan) from aisle 7.
Setting up a date at a local bar, the pair go through all the usual getting-to-know-you questions. It turns out Steve is a reconstructive surgeon who performs serious surgery on burns victims as well as boob jobs. He’s also steadfastly against social media, with his explanation for living off-grid stemming from his argument that no one ever says anything smart on Twitter. It’s a casual, throwaway comment but it cements the impression that Steve is a real adult, unconsumed by the need to project a likeable presence online. Inevitably, this makes him that much more desirable in real life.
After a night of enjoyable sex, Noa divulges the details of her evening to Mollie, who excitedly asks for Steve’s Instagram handle so she can stalk his pics. When she learns of his aversion to the internet, she quickly becomes suspicious. Noa does her best to calm her concerns but Mollie has already noted it as a red flag, convinced that Steve must have a secret family that he wants to keep hidden. Ignoring her best friend's theories, Noa continues to see Steve, having living room dates where they share takeout food and dance to indie pop songs in slow motion.
This easy, breezy dynamic makes Noa feel like she can be herself with Steve, a sexy doctor who doesn’t eat animals or give a f*ck about Facebook. This is partly why, when he suggests that they go away for the weekend after only a few dates, Noa doesn’t think on it too much. His promise of a surprise trip somewhere in the countryside feels like a welcome break from Noa’s string of dating horrors, with her desire for a happily-ever-after pushing her towards Steve’s inviting arms. Fortunately for Noa, Mollie is on the case and decides to track her bestie's location for fear of her being 'dickmatised'.
Fresh might be a somewhat absurdist take on modern dating but the satirical horror hits on some home truths. The idea of the 'offline boyfriend' has become increasingly popular in recent years, with people citing the attraction of 'thought-evoking and insightful conversations' in the absence of apps. There is an assumption that a lack of online presence creates a more trustworthy partner since they have no access to other romantic interests at their fingertips. On TikTok, people even go as far as to say that dating an offline man is like dating a grandpa (in the way that internet naivety feels old school and wholesome AF).
An unplugged boyfriend can seem entirely desirable, then, but how much of that is an illusion we project? Yes, someone's reason for being offline could derive from a hatred of performative behaviour and poorly spelled tweets; equally, it could relate to bad online encounters or – worse – be an attempt to hide troublesome information. As much as Fresh takes the horrors of modern dating and turns them up to 1,000, it makes an important point about the safety of women and the precautionary measures that have become part and parcel of trying to meet someone in the digital age.
In the end, Fresh’s storyline becomes further and further removed from its real-world origins, with its characters descending into nearly two hours of madness. But its exploration of the ever-changing notion of what we find alluring in a partner is an interesting addition to the genre. For fans of gory horrors, the mix of social commentary and squeamish scenes will hit you right where you want it, stirring classic tropes together with some more unexpected twists and turns. Ultimately though, the craziness of Fresh boils down to one crucial takeaway: no offline man will ever overpower the love of a loyal best friend.
Fresh is available to stream on Disney+ UK from 18th March