There’s a deluge of comedy folks segueing into horror these days. Jordan Peele is the most prominent example, having briefly disappeared after Key & Peele wrapped only to return with the instant classic Get Out. Danny McBride teamed with his Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green to pen a new Halloween trilogy. Chris Rock made a Saw movie. The Whitest Kids U Know comedian Zach Creggers went full Barbarian on us.
Lauryn Kahn is on that list, too. The screenwriter has worked in comedy for years. She was a longtime assistant to Adam McKay, collecting experience on the sets of Step Brothers and The Other Guys. She wrote and directed shorts on Funny or Die that starred Selena Gomez, Nick Krroll, Kathryn Hahn and Rob Riggle. She scripted the girls trip feature Ibiza.
Then, earlier this year, her latest brainchild was unleashed on the world: Fresh, the Sundance horror hit starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan about a seemingly perfect “Mr. Right”-type fellow who, it turns out, is actually a sadistic cannibal who regularly chops up the women he dates — leaving them alive as he takes one limb at a time — and packages their meat for an ultra-rich underground network of fellow womaneaters.
“I grew up loving horror movies,” Kahn told Yahoo Entertainment in a recent MVPs of Horror interview. “But my type of horror movie is not living in the darkness the entire time. I like fun. I like the mixing of genres that’s emerged. So it sort of became a challenge for me. Like, ‘I think I want to dip my toe into a horror movie. Maybe have it say something but not shove it down your throat.' I call it ‘hiding your veggies,’ where you can look at it like a straight horror movie but if you want to have a conversation about deeper things, you can. And so to me, dating was something that I thought could be mined a bit more.”
Fresh is indeed fun, certain stomach-turning moments aside. The film kicks off like a straight romantic comedy as Noa (Edgar-Jones) endures a horrible date with pretentious scarf-wearing, check-splitting hipster before engaging in that ultimate type of meet-cute with Steve (Stan), a doctor (plastic surgeon) who flirts with her over cotton candy grapes in the produce aisle of a grocery. Even once we’re in the throes of Noa’s nightmare, as she’s chained up in the basement of Steve’s secluded Zillow dream house, the film is relentlessly, darkly hilarious — particularly once Noa starts hatching a scheme to escape.
“When I pitched it, some people didn’t quite get the vision,” Kahn explains. “I said, ‘It starts as a rom-com, then turns into a horror movie, then ends as a Quentin Tarantino film, and we’re gonna make it all work.’ Because to me, that’s real life, right? You could have something terrible happen and then be laughing the next minute.”
Fresh was a risk, though Kahn credits her production partners at Legendary Pictures for “getting it right away” (ahead of its Sundance debut, Searchlight Pictures acquired the film for distribution on Hulu). Still, there were plenty of other folks along the way who didn’t. “I had people coming into my office saying, ‘I don’t think this can work,’” says Kahn, who was also an executive producer. “Even down to distribution. Every step, there were just people who were afraid or didn’t get it… It definitely turned people off.”
Fresh is gross at points, but on the page it was even grosser, leaving director Mimi Cave in charge of toning down some of its more explicit carnage. “You saw a lot more surgery, body parts, the cooking was gorier, him eating body parts was a lot more gorier… The sawing, the cutting, things like that,” Kahn says of the screenplay. “It was sort of that happy medium of showing things just for a hair and then you’re onto the next scene, so you don’t have to sit in the gore.”
Fresh wants to have a conversation, too, in the way it approaches the unspoken dangers women could potentially face in every interaction with a new man.
“I had read this Twitter thread that sort of ignited something in me about a woman selling her washing machine, and the steps she had to take that men never think twice about,” Kahn says of the story’s impetus. “It’s like, ‘Okay, well it's not in a public place, it's in my house. So if I'm putting this up, I have to know that my husband's gonna be home and they have to come in the morning to look at it.’ And basically someone showed up when her husband was gone and it was like sort of this step-by-step thing. He's like, ‘I just wanna see it real quick.’ And then she has to decide, ‘What does he look like? Could I take him? How old is he? He’s wearing a wedding ring. Should I let him in? Now he wants to go into the basement.’ It’s this simple thing that men have no idea about. It’s like every time I’m parked in a parking garage at night: ‘Where am I parked? Are there lights? Do I have my phone ready to go? Do I have something to protect myself if I'm walking my dog at night?’
“So I wanted to tap into that experience… And then dive into dating and imagine the worst case possible scenario after letting your guard down.”
Ultimately, Fresh is fresh. The film has an 81 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has been generally regarded as one of the best and most original (freshest) horror movies of the year.
Some of Kahn’s favorite reactions have come from her own family, though. “My aunt and uncle, who I think just watched it at first to please me, said they ended up watching it three times,” she said. “And my 96-year-old grandmother watched it.
“But I love that horror fans are respecting it, because that’s a picky, specific kind of fan… And women have felt heard in the experience of dating and trusting and all that. And even non-horror fans have been like, ‘I didn’t think I could stomach this, but then I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.' One of the best tweets I saw I was, ‘I knew it was a good movie because I didn’t look at my phone a single time.’ That’s a high compliment.”
Fresh is currently streaming on Hulu.
Watch our interview with director Mimi Cave and stars Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones: