Fresh Hell, written by Ryan Imhoff and directed by Ryan Imhoff and Matt Neal, starts similar to Host and Unfriended. College acting friends reunite years later on Zoom to chat during the pandemic. While talking, Grace (Lanise Antoine Shelley) and the friends party as they wait for latecomer Laura (Christina Reis) when a stranger arrives and wreaks havoc. As disappearances pile up, questions arise about whether this is real or a troll playing a mean prank. Rounding out the cast of friends is Todd (Rob Fagin), Cynthia (Crystal Kim), Scott (Will Mobley), Brian (Tyler Owen Parsons), James (Randolph Thompson), and Kara (Christine Vrem Ydstie).

In the madness of 2020, where a new horror waited around every corner, Fresh Hell takes that feeling of hysteria and amplifies it for the lead and audiences. Not for the squeamish, Fresh Hell cuts an eccentric niche into the horror genre with its style of psychological terror though the climax felt flat. 

Fresh Hell Shows A Nightmare Within A Nightmare

Fresh Hell still of Grace (Lanise Antoine Shelley) scared
Fresh Hell still of Grace (Lanise Antoine Shelley)

In the 2020 pandemic, the world unraveled on personal, national, and global levels. Grace is not doing well. The movie takes place after the death of George Floyd, and tensions ran at an all-time high. Grace is the sole Black woman among her college acting friends, primarily white people. People struggled to stay afloat financially and mentally in 2020. Capturing a social issue in horror always delivers more than frights.

Grace lost her sister earlier in the year. While some, like Kara, a lawyer, are doing fine, since Grace is a theater actor and with everything locked down, there is no work available. When she meets her old classmates on a Zoom chat, it goes well despite some tension, and everyone is partying in their own way before long. Then, an unknown man enters the chat under Laura’s name. 

Reality Took On A New Criteria

Fresh Hell still of the Stranger (Ryan Imhoff) screaming with his arms raised.
Fresh Hell still of the Stranger (Ryan Imhoff)

The Stranger’s (Ryan Imhoff) behavior starts offbeat creepy, and comical. Yet, soon his actions cross the line from strange to downright gross and terrifying. When he shows them a bloodied-up Laura, they all freak out. Yet, the only person who questions the video after they leave the chat is Grace. Others think it is a troll and that Laura is alive. After all, they spoke to her on the phone, so she must be fine. Fresh Hell questions how much you can know with certainty in a pandemic. 

Especially since the early pandemic felt like a surreal nightmare, escalating from one day to the next, reality and time felt different. Regarding the pandemic and Grace’s circumstances, her uncertainty reflects how people felt during that time. You wondered what was true. If you factor in all the technological strides, online deception is easier than ever before. People can mimic your voice and even have images that look like you. Fresh Hell taps into that overwhelming discomfort.

Acting Works, But Music Is Mixed

Fresh Hell still of Grace, masked (Lanise Antoine Shelley) and Scott (Will Mobley) standing in an alley, looking at something.
Fresh Hell still of Grace (Lanise Antoine Shelley) and Scott (Will Mobley)

Lanise Antoine Shelley as Grace and Ryan Imhoff as the Stranger do a good job complementing each other. While the Stranger is a twisted man, Grace fights to hang on to her sanity as everyone doubts her claims, even as more of the friends disappear. If someone was trying to put together what living in the pandemic felt like in the early stages, combined with police brutality, and increased financial hardship with the only haven being online interaction, Fresh Hell captures the essence. 

The music is decent, sometimes over dramatic, but it reminded me of beloved Tangerine Dream ‘80s music. However, I fought the urge to laugh in certain scenes because the music conflicted with the subdued scenes, cranking the dramatic effect up to 11. The ending felt flat, with little action. Given the build-up through the film, I expected a final epic showdown. Instead, it was a white man giving a long-winded speech. Monologues can be powerful, but it detracts from the movie’s momentum when they go on too long. I’m sure Grace felt the same way. 

Worth A Look, Depending On Tastes
Fresh Hell artwork
Fresh Hell artwork.

Fresh Hell starts promising with tension, is-it-or-is-it-not-real dread, and decent performances from the cast. My only gripe is the climax does not support the rest of the film. I enjoyed it until the end, despite some gross elements—I am not a fan of gross or gory. It captures the change in how everything felt during the pandemic and the unraveling of lives and society. While not fantastic, the pandemic and reality aspects stand out, and Fresh Hell delivers a unique pandemic horror tale for a world oversaturated with misinformation at a time when facts are crucial.

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