Greetings again from the darkness. Discotheques and Night Clubs were regularly referred to as ‘meat markets’, and all movie lovers are familiar with the term ‘meet-cute’. It’s rare for meat and meet to merge into a cautionary tale of modern-day dating, but that’s what we get from director Mimi Cave’s first feature film and a script from Lauryn Kahn (IBIZA, 2018). This twisted film should slide easily into the Midnight Movie rotation for those looking for a slicer, rather than a slasher.
Daisy Edgar-Jones (“Normal People”, 2020) stars as Noa, a twenty-something frustrated with the results of digital dating apps. Her experience is a case study on the challenges of meeting someone special, or even someone not psychotic, through a dating app. She swipes right on a cute puppy picture, and almost immediately receives an unwanted ‘private’ shot. When she does agree to have dinner with one guy, he criticizes her fashion, yearns for old-fashioned femininity, makes her pay half, and doesn’t bother to hold the door for her. Noa tells her close friend Mollie (Jojo T Gibbs) that she’s done with dating for a while, and who can blame her?
Not long after that trainwreck date, and when she’s least expecting it, Noa gets her meet-cute in the produce aisle at the grocery store. Steve (Sebastian Stan who plays Bucky Barnes in the Marvel Universe) is a charming, good-looking guy and she agrees to give him her number. Their first date is filled with the usual background Q&A stuff, but it’s clear that Noa and Steve have some chemistry. The reason this works cinematically is that director Cave allows us to view Steve through Noa’s eyes. Just like her, we are diligently searching for red flags, remaining on high alert for signs something is off. But plastic surgeon Steve’s early warning signs only become noticeable much later (too late) after his true self is revealed.
Steve’s true-self-revelation is a doozy, and the opening credits pop up just after the gut-punch, approximately 40 minutes in. While the first act plays a bit like a traditional rom-com with all the associated romantic awkwardness, the stunningly plausible shift jerks us and Noa in a different direction. Additional supporting work is provided by Dayo Okeniyi as an initially helpful bartender whose recognition of horror film tropes prevent him from taking any heroic action, and Charlotte Le Bon as a surprise addition to the proceedings. But it’s the performances and the twisted chemistry of Ms. Edgar-Jones and Mr. Stan that allows the premise to work and Act 3 to not quite slip into full blown absurdity. Without giving anything else away, I can admit that this referendum on dating and people, presented as a horror film, struck me as a blend of PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020), GET OUT (2017), and a personal favorite, EATING RAOUL (1982).
Streaming exclusively on HULU beginning March 4, 2022