UK Release Date: 7th April 2017
Runtime: 99 minutes
Director: Julia Ducournau
Writer: Julia Ducournau
Starring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Naït Oufella, Joana Preiss, Laurent Lucas
Synopsis: A timid vegetarian gets her first taste of flesh – both animal and human – when she takes part in a bizarre hazing ritual during her first week at veterinary college.
Let’s get this out of the way in the first paragraph. Yes, Raw is that cannibal movie that made audience members faint when it premiered in Toronto. Yes, there’s a pretty brutal scene of a DIY bikini wax. Yes, it’s a transgressive and violent movie that involves sex, gore and people chowing down on human meat. Raw is absolutely all of those things, but it’s also something much more. It’s an intense exploration of what it means to not only come of age and become a woman, but to lurch straight from a sheltered upbringing into a bearpit of unrestrained hedonism and sexuality. Writer-director Julia Ducournau‘s debut full-length feature is an accomplished take on femininity, with a subversive edge of Cronenbergian grotesquerie.
Justine (Garance Marillier) is excited to enrol at the same veterinary college as her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf), but is shocked when she arrives to find that she is almost immediately subject to a series of bizarre hazing rituals. Her and gay roommate Adrien (Rabah Naït Oufella) are hauled out of bed for raves in the dark and sexually-charged games are common. One bizarre tradition sees lifelong vegetarian Justine peer pressured into consuming rabbit kidney, after which she develops a bizarre rash and an even odder curiosity for the taste of human flesh.
Julia Ducournau isn’t going all-out to shock her audience. Given Raw‘s rather fearsome reputation, you’d be forgiven for expecting a disgusting gorefest, but what’s most shocking about the film is how controlled and precise it feels. Ducournau has everything under control here and knows exactly when to allow her story to unfurl, ensuring that the moments of violence have their most potent effect. Her film could easily have been a lazy cannibal sleazefest, but it’s instead a layered and nuanced take on a young woman shedding her innocence and wrestling with carnal desires she had previously suppressed.
Much of that nuance and subtlety comes from Garance Marillier’s incredible central performance. She is equally comfortable portraying Justine’s timid beginnings as her descent into hedonism, most perfectly captured in a scene where she dances seductively in front of a mirror, experimenting with her own new-found power. Marillier gives a tremendously committed role that enables the transgressive nature of the film to be felt more keenly thanks to the nicely realised change in the way she approaches the character throughout the film. Her evolving relationship with her gay roommate is the perfect encapsulation of the turmoil which she faces as the narrative progresses.
It’s also in the bizarre sibling relationship with Ella Rumpf that Raw tells Justine’s story, with Rumpf’s character trying to aid her sister through the rites of passage she has already experienced. Justine’s new, uncontrollable urges prove too much for their fragile familial bond to hold and they come to blows in the kind of frenzied conflict that is a horror movie take on the kind of scuffle that will resonate for anyone who grew up with a sibling. Ducournau’s film is adept at finding a troubling, allegorical angle on almost every element of the coming of age process.
Raw is an intense experience and one that assaults all of the senses, whether it’s Justine’s disgustingly Cronenbergian full body rash after eating meat or a series of strange dreams involving a horse. Ducournau isn’t aiming to gross out her audience, but she’s aware of the power that the gunk and viscera of body horror is in many ways the perfect metaphor for a young woman trying to get to grips with feelings she’s struggling to understand. The film goes right back to its final roots with a climactic shot that is haunting and subtle, while casting the film in an entirely new and utterly chilling light.
Pop or Poop?
Julia Ducournau has constructed a savage and sexual opera of violence that is far more sophisticated than its reputation for turning stomachs would suggest. She draws a tremendous performance from Garance Marillier, who is fearless in conveying a woman’s descent into haunting hedonism. It’s a movie that stays with you long after the credits roll and certainly has plenty of bite.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.