Chew on this
It’s no secret that dating in the modern world can be a minefield of swipes, likes and no-gos, but Mimi Cave’s directorial debut Fresh plays out bad dating scenario in a whole new way. Normal People’s Daisy Edgar-Jones stars as twenty-something Noa slowly losing faith in the power of dating apps alongside Captain America’s Sebastian Stan as Steve, the charmingly unassuming plastic surgeon she meets in the fruit and veg aisle of the supermarket. Going into this movie blind is essential, as the pair’s IRL meet-cute plays out like your classic rom-com until the credits roll mid-way through, revealing a second half to the movie that proves love truly does bite.
Bringing Lauryn Kahn’s audaciously daring script to life offered Cave the scope to craft a genre-bending debut. Fresh is undefinable, to say the least. It’s a dark comedy thriller dissecting the power dynamics of relationships and exploring the commodification of women’s bodies – all this with a side of cannibalism. Powered by the captivating on-screen chemistry of the protagonists, the plot taps into classic thriller tropes without losing the cultural relevance of its subject matter. Speaking to us in the conversation below, Mimi Cave discusses her transition into feature film directing, tapping into the female psyche and her hopes for opening up a dialogue that delves below the surface of entertainment value alone.
Ella Joyce: Congratulations on a brilliant debut. Having premiered at Sundance Film Festival at the beginning of the year what was the initial audience reception like?
Mimi Cave: Well, it’s hard to say because the in-person was cancelled so we don’t know what it would’ve been like in a theatre, I think all of us who made the film would have felt it a little bit more. It’s weird when things are virtual because you hear and read things but in terms of feeling the presence of a reception, it’s just surreal. But with the experience we did have we had the best reception we could have gotten with all of those things in place – it was great but I’m sure I’d be singing a different tune if the reviews were not good. [laughs]
EJ: What was the transition like for you as a director taking on a feature film for the first time?
MC: I’ve been directing for a long time so I think the main transition was in terms of scope, size and scale – everything was just bigger. I was honestly more concerned and nervous about my endurance in terms of working on something so intensely for so long. I think really it was just all about the scale and being like, “Am I up to the task of shooting and prepping for this long?” Honestly, I’ve always wanted to do a feature so in a lot of ways it was a dream come true, every day just felt like I was living what I wanted to be doing. So the main transition was just in terms of scale and size, everything else was kind of the same as what I’ve been doing for a long time.
Daisy Edgar-Jones, Mimi Cave and Sebastian Stan behind the scenes filming ‘Fresh’, 2022
EJ: What was it that drew you to Lauryn Kahn’s script and how was it developing that vision alongside her?
MC: I think the script is very bold and it’s very out there, I hadn’t read anything quite like it and it definitely made me feel nervous. Sebastian [Stan] has mentioned this before and it’s just that thing where it normally feels like a good sign when something scares you. I think for me it was a huge challenge because the way this film reads on paper means it can go in a lot of different directions in terms of execution. I knew what I wanted to do and I knew the tone I wanted to go for so it was just a huge challenge to try and make that happen but there was so much on the page that I could play with. Honestly, I really wanted to work with her and work with the producers Adam [McKay], Kevin [J. Messick] and Maeve [Cullinane]. I was very excited to be on a team of people I felt were really smart and savvy and were doing something a little different.
EJ: In terms of your cast, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan have brilliant on-screen chemistry. What was the casting process like?
MC: Well we were in the middle of a pandemic so it was not normal, basically with Daisy and Sebastian I cast them both from Zoom conversations. It came down to commitment, I think with this type of film you have to go in all the way or not at all because if someone is feeling a little doubtful or trepidatious it’ll show on. They read the script and were immediately just like, “Ooh there’s something here,” and once there were enough people involved and committed it just got everyone else more excited. Again that’s one of the main reasons I cast both of them, because they didn’t have a question in their minds whether they wanted to do it.
EJ: The film really could fit into any genre – it’s a macabre comedy, thriller, romance and a feminist fable but I think all of that feels very rooted in the power dynamic of being in love. What was the main theme that stood out for you when making the film?
MC: I am really happy you picked up on that. [laughs] That was the theme or topic that most intrigued me and felt like I could most personally connect to, those power dynamics. I wanted to have that come across and I felt like I knew if we couldn’t establish that clear cat and mouse game between Noa and Steve then we would lose the audience’s interest because I think if you’re just throwing imagery at people but not backing it up with some sort of psychological motivation, you’re just going to lose them. It was what I found most interesting and I thought that this script was an opportunity to play things out in a much larger, over the top way in order to get people’s attention.
“I think if you’re just throwing imagery at people but not backing it up with some sort of psychological motivation, you’re just going to lose them.”
Still, ‘Fresh’ by Mimi Cave, 2022
EJ: The subject matter in general is very culturally relevant, dealing with online dating and the fears that are attached to such everyday tasks for women in society. Were those topics something you’d wanted to tap into creatively?
MC: That was inherent in Lauryn’s script and something she was very passionate about – she did a really good job at nailing those themes. It was all up to me in terms of how to best have those come across without hitting it over your head, you know? But weirdly, as women some of those things we don’t take a lot of notice of or do unconsciously day to day really do only affect us. Men who read the script and watched the movie don’t know the things that we think about – it’s just kind of amazing that they don’t know. [laughs]
EJ: Absolutely, I think the opening scene specifically when she’s walking to her car with her keys gripped in her hand after leaving a date is completely second nature to a woman but from a male perspective that’s something that doesn’t always cross their mind.
MC: Totally! It’s really interesting.
EJ: Not to give too much away but I think the meet-cute is really interesting as it lures us into this false sense of security, then the credits roll and you’re shown just how disarming vulnerability can be especially in terms of dating. Was executing that moment of contrast important to you in the opening?
MC: Yeah definitely, I knew I had to get people feeling like they were rooted in our day-to-day world and that they were relating to different parts of each of the characters in order to then flip the script. I wanted people to really feel like, “I want these two to work out!” I knew immediately Daisy and Sebastian had such incredible magnetism on screen, so I wasn’t worried about them having chemistry. They both have that ability to really shine once the camera is on them, their chemistry was so immediate and I knew that would draw people in so when we flipped the script it would be a “Holy shit!” kind of moment. That was all very intentional.
EJ: I was definitely rooting for them, I must admit. [laughs]
MC: I still am! Every time I watch it I still root for them, even though I’ve seen it like 2,000 times. I feel like if they’re convincing me then that’s probably a good sign. [laughs]
EJ: The score also plays a role in its own right, how did you come to that soundscape and what does it add to the production?
MC: Alex Somers is the composer. I usually approach things from a very blank slate and do a lot of word association with people I work with to try get gut reactions. So Alex and I threw around sounds, I had a list of completely random instruments and sounds I knew I wanted in the score or wanted to inspire the score. He took a lot of those inspirations and kind of ran with them, literally ran. [laughs] He flew to Iceland on an inspired whim and started recording all these wild instruments and sounds across the country for about a month, so the score has a lot of stories to it.
EJ: Wow that’s amazing. The Golden Girls theme tune is in there somewhere too isn’t it?
MC: It is indeed! [laughs]
EJ: Everything is shot in a very visceral way to show the commodification of women’s bodies and the props are scarily accurate. They really do pack a punch, how did you make them so realistic?
MC: Which props exactly? [laughs]
EJ: The ‘meat’ I suppose may be the right word… shall we call it that? [laughs]
MC: Ah yes, the meat. [laughs] We had a chef that was hired to create the dishes to be edible for the actors, we went through many rounds of designing each of the dishes and having our props stylist try them on Zoom to see how much it would gross us out. We used a lot of different ingredients, I just wanted things to look familiar but then have this edge of something being off, something’s a little gross but you can’t quite put your finger on it. So we worked to bring in different ingredients that would help accentuate that oddness to the dish, we worked very hard at figuring out the balance for that.
Still, ‘Fresh’ by Mimi Cave, 2022
“I felt there was enough [horror] thematically to tap into a woman’s fear – we didn’t need to show it so much, its already in our heads”
EJ: As a genre, the messages that lie within horrors or thrillers can sometimes feel lost in the gore, but that didn’t feel like the case here as the message certainly came through. Is horror as a genre something you would like to explore further in your work?
MC: I love thrillers, I love a good thriller. But in terms of horror, it’s funny because I’m pretty squeamish actually so again when I was talking about the execution of the script I pulled a lot of the gore back because I felt there was enough there thematically to tap into a woman’s fear – we didn’t need to show it so much, its already in our heads. Our job for this film was to show visuals that would tap into what’s already there.
EJ: I’m not very good with horror movies either, going to watch it I was thinking, “Oh god, do I need a cushion to cover my eyes?” [laughs]
MC: I’m the same! It’s funny because I don’t know what I would think. Obviously making it you don’t get squeamish because you’re seeing how it’s created, but with other horror films I’m not a big fan of a lot of blood, I’m very much the person that is digging their face into their friend’s shoulder. So in a way I thought, “I’m going to use my squeamishness as a gauge for this film.”
EJ: The ending is a really cathartic role reversal in the power dynamic we saw play out throughout the film – how did it feel seeing the female characters overcome that?
MC: I think it’s really earned, which was what we had to do, we had to make sure it was earned in order to have that cathartic pay-off. That was inherent in the script the first time I read it. I’m not really someone who’s like, “Girl power!” but when I read the script I really was, I was like, “Yeah fucking get him!” I wanted that feeling I initially had, so I knew I had to really build every step of the way leading up to it. Obviously I know what’s coming but because I do and the viewer doesn’t, you have this information you’re working with as you’re shooting where you’re constantly thinking, “OK, how does this lead into the ending? How do I build that tension so there is a huge release at the end?”
EJ: I definitely breathed a very big sigh of relief. [both laugh] One final question, what is it you hope audiences take away once this is released?
MC: What I really hope is that there is a range of depth with the film, I think on the surface it can hopefully be quite entertaining but I do think there is a lot below that and we all worked very hard to make sure of it. There’s a lot of different things in this film for different people and that’s what I love about it. I love seeing the reactions and conversations that are happening, important ones – that’s the reason I wanted to make the film in the first place.
Fresh premieres on Disney+ Friday 18th March.