Stars: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss, Bouli Lanners, Marion Vernoux, Thomas Mustin, Marouan Iddoub, Jean-Louis Sbille | Written and Directed by Julia Ducournau
I’ve read the hype, I’ve heard of the faintings and walkouts. And I have no idea what film those “newsworthy” stories were based around. It’s certainly not the film that I saw… In fact I found the film to be somewhat timid compared to the online furore surrounding Julia Ducournau’s film. As a strange, ethereal coming-of-age tale, Raw is very, VERY, effective. But as some kind of Martyrs-esque French fear-flick shocker? Less so. Much less so. Don’t buy into the hype and instead enjoy an pathos-filled tale of growing up. All wrapped up in the story of cannibal sisters attending veterinary school! Hey, I never said Raw wasn’t a strange film…
The film follows shy vegetarian Justine as she attends her first year at veterinarian college. Forced into eating raw liver in a vicious hazing process by older students, including her own sister, she soon she develops an unhealthy taste for meat and her new carnivore persona drives her to commit acts of increasing savagery as her unquenched sexual urges turn into an appetite for human flesh. But Raw is actually much more than its core story.
Like many horror films, Raw uses the tropes of the genre to explore other themes: in this case it’s burgeoning sexuality, emotional isolation and the fear of new things, new places… and most of all new feelings. And thankfully those concepts are underpinned by a stunning central performance by Garance Marillier, who somehow manages to be both innocent and dealy at the same time. Marillier balances both aspects of Justine’s personality perfectly, and her transition from the early confused student to the psychotic cannibalistic would-be “killer” is what makes Raw a joy to watch. Her performance will hold the audiences attention long past any disappointment that this isnt’t the gorefest the hype made it out to be.
Structured more like a traditional French coming-of-age drama, if any film deserves, and lives up to, the moniker of arthouse horror then Raw is it. Julia Ducournau’s directorial debut is as challenging and mysterious as Last Year in Marienbad, as disturbing as Livid and, without ever going to any true extremes, is as traumatising and bleak as Frontiere(s). For one thing, it undoubtedly marks Ducournau as yet another French filmmaker to watch.
Raw is on limited release across the UK now.