The year 2000 saw not only the dawn of a new millennium but the birth of a new American monster. Mary Harron’s adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis’s novel American Psycho stars Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, a psychopathic yuppie who terrorizes Wall Street while listening to cheesy pop music on his walkman. In one of horror’s smartest satires, Patrick’s utter contempt for humanity and habit of dissecting female bodies reveals the heart of American greed and misogyny run amok in the 1980s. Twenty-two years later (and thirty-one years after the novel’s original publication), shockingly little has changed. Genesis is now considered classic rock, our hair contains less mouse, and no one returns video tapes anymore, but the insidious nature of American consumption is alive and well in the extreme upper echelons of wealth.
Enter Steve (Sebastian Stan). Following in Harron’s footsteps, Mimi Cave’s Hulu horror movie Fresh gives us a new version of the All-American Monster. He’s respectful, funny, and earnestly charming; the perfect boyfriend. But Steve’s narcissism, psychopathy, disdain for female bodies, and love for 80s music is straight out of Patrick’s playbook.
Despite their striking resemblance, Steve and Patrick have very little in common. They are both tall white men with wavy brown hair, but that’s where the outward similarities end. Patrick is a trust fund banker who lives in an ivory palace of solitude and skin care products. He’s quasi-engaged to Evelyn, but having an affair with her best friend. His days are filled with maintaining his physical appearance, wasting time at work, and returning video tapes. Steve, on the other hand, is a surgeon with a family and a fondness for self-deprecating humor. He meets Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) in the produce aisle and quickly charms his way into her heart. But this awkwardly cute bachelor persona is just a façade. Steve is actually a married father of two named Brendan (we’ll keep calling him Steve) who moonlights as a cannibalistic butcher, holding women captive in his luxurious basement while slowly cutting off pieces of their flesh to sell on the black market. Beneath the differing exteriors of these two handsome predators lies a fundamental core of narcissism and an obsession with dominating and destroying women. Both men place themselves at the top of the food chain and view everyone beneath them as disposable. They also both dig 80s pop music, the cheesier the better.
Fundamental to both men’s narcissism is an obsession with physical perfection. Harron introduces us to Patrick by describing his rigorous morning routine complete with expensive serums, exfoliating scrubs, and cooling eye masks. He obsessively exercises, doing up to 1000 crunches in his underwear while The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or maybe hardcore pornography plays on the VCR. Throughout his day, he compares the outward signifiers of his status with others, obsessing over trendy dinner reservations and nearly committing murder over a colleague’s more impressive business card. Steve’s look is more down-to-earth, but the obsession with appearance remains. He is not just a surgeon, but one who specializes in plastics. Though he notes that he occasionally gets to help people who have suffered disfigurements, he mostly works to “improve” the physical appearance of the wealthy. Both of his homes are picture perfect, with warm mahogany and a top of the line kitchen in his bachelor’s workspace, and crisp white linens in his family’s home. Both Patrick and Steve define their worth by their ability to consume the unattainable and spend their considerable money on physical manifestations of economic status.
This narcissism overlaps with a deep and disturbing streak of misogyny. They are not only womanizers, but predators who pick up beautiful women in order to destroy their bodies. Patrick delights in torturing and dismembering women, what he calls his “nightly bloodlust.”. Ellis describes his escapades in upsetting detail in his novel, but Harron hints at his monstrosity with sheets drenched in blood and bedroom drawers filled with ominous tools. When not dining with his fiancé or mistress, he spends his evenings with sex workers giving them false names and directing their actions in minute detail. He films himself having sex with these women and flexes in the mirror, hoping to create the perfect image of depravity and dehumanization he obsessively watches on his VCR. Steve, on the other hand, literally consumes the bodies of his dates. He commemorates the experience of devouring their flesh with cubbies filled with each woman’s belongings hidden behind an expensive piece of art in his living room. Though he would likely kill a man, he only eats the bodies of women claiming they “taste better.” Patrick kills indiscriminately, but only plays with the bodies of his female victims. Both men view women as art, objects and materials for them to shape, mold, consume, and destroy as they please.
Fresh’s most overt nod to American Psycho is its 80s needle drops. The soundtrack is a blend of classic top 40 hits and modern pop suggesting a dual narrative not present in Harron’s film. Noa’s taste in music permeates the playlist, implying the importance of her emotional narrative, but the 80s songs are all Steve. In a montage midway through the film, he dances around his kitchen to Animotion’s Obsession while slicing and vacuum sealing pieces of a human leg. He then cheerily places them in boxes along with brightly colored lingerie, accessories, and pictures of the “donor,” hoping to add intimacy to the future meal. This mirrors lyrics that describe a man’s need to possess and consume the woman he desires, sentiments Steve will rhapsodize about later in the film. Another on-the-nose reference occurs in his home operating suite. Having tried to escape, Noa wakes up in the middle of a surgery to remove her ass. While singing Peter Cetera’s Restless Heart at full volume, Steve describes the amputation as her consequence for having lost his trust. It’s chilling and delicious irony as the lyrics describe a man hoping the woman he loves will never leave him. Though Steve is a thoroughly modern character, his musical choices harken back to the conspicuous consumption and glaring misogyny of 1980s WASP culture.
One of the most iconic murder scenes in horror history is American Psycho’s Hip to Be Square ax murder. Patrick can barely contain his rage when, at dinner, frenemy Paul Allen insults Patrick to his face, confusing him with another one of their interchangeable investment banker friends. Later that night, Patrick sets a drunk Paul on his drop cloth covered chair with a sea of newspapers laid out in preparation for the carnage to come. Patrick dons a clear raincoat over his expensive suit and dances around with an ax while monologuing about the newest Huey Lewis and the News album. In a perfect bit of black comedy he plunges the ax into Paul’s head while screaming about a coveted reservation at Dorsia. His need to kill drowns out the music and he loses his composure, his heavily moussed hair flying about his blood splattered face.
Steve has a similar loss of control in one of Fresh’s climactic needle drops. Noa and Steve share an intimate dinner of human flesh where she feigns romantic interest hoping he will drop his guard. After an intimate kiss, they dance together in the living room, a nod to their idyllic second date. This time set to Richard Marx’s Endless Summer Nights, they remember the promise of what could have been a perfect relationship had Steve not turned out to be a murderous psychopath. Though the lyrics describe romantic nostalgia, a line in the second verse betrays a darker reading. “Every single breath you took was mine,” could be read as a description of physical intimacy, but it takes a chilling new tone when viewed through Steve’s controlling lens. From the moment he meets Noa, he views her as his prey. What he really wishes is that she would willingly go along with his murderous plans and allow him to keep seeing himself as a good guy. Before the satisfaction of the chorus kicks in, the music switches to La Femme’s Le Jardin, a French song describing life altering reversals of fortune. It’s a subtle indication that Steve has fallen for Noa’s ruse and the power is now in her hands. He mimics her movements and waits for her in bed as she prepares to deliver her own devastating bite.
Hulu’s Fresh is terrifying because it suggests that the Patrick Batemans of the world are still an ever present threat. We sometimes see men like him and call them out for their narcissism, but too often we fail to act until it’s too late. The film begins with Noa escaping two red herrings. In the opening scene, she rejects Chad for blatantly negging her on their first date. When returning to her car, she laces her keys through her fingers in anticipation of a shady figure walking behind her. She is able to navigate both situations safely because she has prepared herself to expect overtly toxic men. But she falls for Steve. He is a more sinister psycho because he knows the kind of monster she will be expecting. He lures her in with his charm, only revealing his true nature once she’s lost all control. Perhaps that is director Mimi Cave’s ultimate message. Though we’ve moved on from the yuppie culture in which Patrick Bateman thrives, his brand of murderous consumption is alive and well… just wearing a new kind of suit.
Fresh is now streaming only on Hulu.