Created by a group of Chicago theatre artists locked out of their livelihoods by the pandemic, Fresh Hell was a movie I thought I’d struggle through. No offense to directors Ryan Imhoff (who also wrote the script and plays The Stranger) and Matt Neal, but I’m on Microsoft Teams all day for work and struggle to get through up to ten virtual meetings a day. Could I handle one in my non-work free time?
Grace (Lanise Antoine Shelley), James (Randolph Thompson), Kara (Christine Vrem-Ydstie), Cynthia (Crystal Kim), Brian (Tyler Owen Parsons), Scott (Will Mobley), Todd (Rob Fagin) and Laura (Christina Reis) all gather for a video chat and by the end, The Stranger appears in place of their friend Laura. Their call ends with him knowing too much about them, hints that Laura is dead and the sinister man slicing his own cock off and showing the bloody wound left behind.
This is where the film changed and brought me in. Grace lost her sister in the early days of COVID-19 and while everyone else thinks Laura’s death is some kind of joke, she worries that what they’ve seen may be real. That’s when The Stranger starts coming for everyone else.
Meanwhile, Scott has become an alt-right firebrand, human puppies show up in the background of the others when Grace tries to warn them and then the finale is an on-stage talk show with the surviving characters and The Stranger, which again, is unexpected.
I’m glad I stuck with this movie. I was honestly expecting it to be background noise, but it becomes more deranged, unsettled and surprising as it goes on. And isn’t that what we want from movies these days? Trust me: stick around for that first videochat and then buckle up.