*** This review contains spoilers ***
In a society where Roe v. Wade was overturned and new descriptions of women are being adopted, Americans can still count on the film industry to stay the same. It continues to portray women as damsels in distress. Luckily, Hulu’s 2022 films Fresh and The Princess let its leading ladies rescue themselves.
Equal parts horror film, satire and cautionary tale, Fresh focuses on singleton Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) who hasn’t had much luck dating men. That is, until she encounters Steve (Sebastian Stan) in the fresh produce section of a grocery store. Noa is charmed by the “cute meet” and the romantic potential he offers.
After a 30-minute setup, Noa learns Steve isn’t just a plastic surgeon — he’s a cannibal too! Like the other women he’s previously dated, she finds herself chained up and awaiting slaughter, body part by body part. In other words, the film gives literal meaning to the dating meat market.
With this premise, it’s safe to presume director Mimi Cave and writer Lauryn Kahn were influenced by American Psycho (2000), Get Out (2017), and Promising Young Woman (2020). Yet the film also offers interesting shots and plot twists of its own as the protagonist uses her wits, sexuality, and female camaraderie to escape.
In Le-Van Kiet’s medieval action flick The Princess (2022), the titular character (Joey King) relies on agility, speed and brute force to overcome her circumstances. Kidnapped and betrothed to a man (Dominic Cooper) she loathes, the feisty fiancée takes out huge henchmen as she undergoes a series of ingeniously choreographed fight scenes that play more like a violent video game than a plot-driven movie.
The lack of a substantial narrative with nuanced characters is one of the biggest problems of Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton’s script. The other is a misinterpretation of feminism that depicts a powerful woman as a man-hating girlboss who exchanges womanhood for toxic masculinity.
It doesn’t help that, other than the princess’s father (Ed Stoppard) and martial arts trainer (Kristofer Kamiyasu), there aren’t a lot of redeeming male characters in the film. Similarly, the men presented in Fresh consist of a jerk, a coward, and a psychopath.
On the upside, both movies aim to entertain with well-cast actresses, an eye for style, and liberating messages: Fresh proves it’s dehumanizing to reduce women to their body parts and The Princess takes a pro-choice stance, saying women should decide their own fates. But the fact that each film centers around an imprisoned heroine doesn’t feel all that empowering.