For a generation coming of age during the apocalypse, “Fresh Hell” is essential viewing — twisted, terrifying, timely, and too good to miss.
Fresh Hell (last year’s Horrorhound winner for Best Feature Film) is not for the likes of me.
I mean, yeah, I lived through the pandemic, and I got used to Zoom meetings — and other stuff nightmares are made of (relatives and friends getting sick or dying, job loss, isolation, draconian mandates, etc.).
But I’d already experienced enough that it didn’t really define much of a portion of my own life comparatively.
To the younger generation, however, COVID was like their 9/11. It changed everything.
Late Millennials and Gen-Z’ers are even starting to be referred to as the “Zoom Generation”, and their kids are being called “COVID Babies”.
And that’s who this film is for: The so-called “Zoomers”.
For them, Fresh Hell gets mad bonus points for being relevant to those for whom the most change has occurred.
It also deserves high praise for its seamless transition from found-footage-style Zoom sessions to a stage (literally), as well as its excellent digital effects and interpolation of horrifying political and civil rights issues of the day (such as police brutality and January 6th).
I like to include the IMDb synopsis in my reviews because it’s most often how the filmmakers themselves want it presented, so here’s theirs:
“In the dog days of 2020, the year in which every hour brought a new horror, a group of old friends stumbles across a very different flavor of terror. Created by a group of Chicago theatre artists locked out of their livelihoods by the pandemic, Fresh Hell is a critically acclaimed horror-comedy that captures the spirit of a damned era. Blood. Chuckles. Very cool.”
That should provide a sense of what they wanted to convey. But oddly enough, I personally didn’t feel that the film qualifies as a “horror-comedy”.
I don’t remember laughing except at the comic relief.
But one designated comic relief (hilarious Crystal Kim, 2020’s Livewire) and a few funny lines from the supporting cast does not a comedy make.
I’m first to admit there’s a generation gap though, so some humor may have gone over my head. My generation didn’t have memes or TikTok, so that style of comedy is hit and miss for me.
That said, I can confidently state that Fresh Hell, at the very least, definitely brings the scary.
Written and directed by Ryan Imhoff (who also stars) and co-directed by Matt Neal (who also acts in the film), Fresh Hell starts off very strong, with solid performances from all the lead players as they build their characters in “real-time” for the audience via a Zoom session; a very clever way to introduce each character one-at-a-time while also exploring their relationships with and perspectives on each other.
Enter the antagonist, a disheveled, some level of looney-tunes stranger who is dubbed as such by the group and quickly adopts the title proudly, “Call me ‘The Stranger’!”
What’s most disturbing is that he is apparently using the account of one of the group’s friends whom they were expecting to show up instead.
The Stranger’s square behaves differently from the other squares in the session, fritzing out here and there, popping off unusual sounds, and just being creepy in general, along with The Stranger himself. And…hilarity ensues, or, more appropriately, SCAREity ensues.
One-by-one, the Zoomers are targeted by The Stranger in their real lives and online.
The lovely Lanise Antoine Shelley (TV’s Chicago Med and Empire) slides into the final girl role, and the audience suffers with her through terrifying videos of her friends being gruesomely killed (thanks to excellent practical FX by Bill Zurek of The Rake and Mollywood fame), and the even worse phenomenon of next level gaslighting as everyone she leans on for support starts to think she’s crazy.
But if they thought she was nuts, wait till Mr. Stranger really gets going.
This review now has 666 words, which is perfect for this movie. Watch it now, and just try not to think about it next time you join a Zoom meeting.