When Ryan Imhoff emailed me asking if I’d be interested in reviewing Fresh Hell, the film he wrote and co-directed with Matt Neal was a bit hesitant. Having been dealing with videochat horror films going back to Unfriended in 2014 and 2018’s E-Demon I was sicker than most of the genre. But its trailer looked different so I decided to give it a look. As it turns out, different is an understatement.
Classmates Grace (Lanise Antoine Shelley, Stratford Festival: Macbeth), Todd (Rob Fagin), Cynthia (Crystal Kim), Brian (Tyler Owen Parsons), James (Randolph Thompson, California Winter, Salem Rogers), and Kara (Christine Vrem-Ydstie, Come as You Are, Boot the Pigeon) haven’t seen other since graduation. Since COVID is preventing them from having an actual reunion, they’re doing it virtually via Zoom.
After a few minutes of rather annoying small talk, they realize Scott (Will Mobley) and Laura (Christina Reis, The Haddonfield Nightmare) haven’t logged in yet. Scott, who was an annoying prick even before he became a far-right shock jock/podcaster and was invited out of a feeling of duty does make an appearance. Laura, who nobody has heard from recently, doesn’t.
Title cards divide Fresh Hell into three acts and there’s no way to get around it, the first act is rough going. The characters are various shades of annoying and Scott is the kind of person who loves to piss others off. But once The Stranger (Ryan Imhoff, Wilt, I Am a Channel) joins using Laura’s sign-in, everything changes. At first, they think it’s some strange prank, but then bloodied images of Laura appear as well as people in what looks like BDSM dog costumes.
As Act Two opens Grace is extremely worried about Laura who still hasn’t been heard from and Fresh Hell shifts into a sort of slasher mode as those dog people we saw earlier start turning up in the various character’s homes. Or maybe they aren’t. Grace is convinced but everyone else, from the police to her friends, the ones who haven’t disappeared, are skeptical.
What we see is all still computer, or in the case of a snuff video, complete with goofy filters, sent via Snapchat, cell phone-based. It’s not until Act Three that Fresh Hell gets away from the keyboard and hits the streets as the group’s final survivor tries to get some answers and the film heads into its final showdown.
While Fresh Hell does feature some blood and on-screen deaths, the gore is actually fairly restrained and the scene that will shock most viewers actually isn’t one of violence. And I can see more than a few viewers bailing out when it occurs too. It’s funny how some people find that more disturbing than violence. But more so than it is shocking, Fresh Hell is just plain strange at times.
Especially the last act, with its bizarre talk show-styled final confrontation. A talk show hosted by The Stranger whose behaviour is certainly not the kind of crazy we’re used to in a film like this. While I would have preferred something less manic and more maniac, it does fit with what we’ve seen up to that point.
Bathed in the misery of 2020, with audio clips of news reports to remind the viewer of just how much other shit besides COVID that year threw at us, Fresh Hell is one of the stranger films I’ve seen this year. It’s not for everyone, some viewers will be turned off by the Zoom format or just not want to remember 2020. Others will be turned off by some of the imagery. But it’s worth the effort because Fresh Hell is a fresh take on the pandemic videocall horrors of 2020, one that will have you saying WTF more than once.
Fresh Hell is available on DVD, VOD, and Digital platforms from DeskPop Entertainment. You can check their website or the film’s Facebook page for more information. And if you’re looking for something along the same lines, FilmTagger has some suggestions.