Runtime: 98 Minutes
Director: Julia Ducournau
Writer: Julia Ducournau
Stars: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss
By Simon Whitlock
Horror cinema has enjoyed a real purple patch in the last decade, and arguably the most exciting, inventive and disturbing release of the 2010s is “Raw”, the debut feature for French writer-director Julie Ducournau. The film plays out as an unholy marriage between a coming-of-age tale and a cannibal horror story, in which a young vegetarian named Justine (Garance Marillier) takes her first steps into adulthood as she begins her studies at veterinary college.
What She Said:
“Its power – its shuddering, relentless intensity – lies in the way it makes you vicariously feel both her dual hungers, and surreptitiously relish every sticky, illicit bite.”
Justine’s journey from girlhood to womanhood is started with participation in a particularly unpleasant hazing, where she is made to eat raw meat at the behest of her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf). From there, a primal desire awakens inside Justine, which drives her to satisfy a newfound appetite for flesh in ways both carnal and carnivorous.
A film like “Raw” is, by its very nature, an uncomfortable watch. It’s a film which has even gone so far as to cause some filmgoers to pass out mid-screening, and while it’s easy for horror films to get lost in that kind of hyperbole, “Raw” doesn’t feel like the kind of film which aims for gross-out territory. Granted, there are moments which are downright unpleasant to witness – one scene involving a waxing and a severed finger springs to mind – but all of the film’s most overtly shocking moments are in service to its overall message, and not utilised as a cheap ploy to push any kind of moral envelope.
What She Said:
“Intelligently portraying the hunger, desire and passion for human flesh, in the most unfathomable way possible. Go treat yourself to some Raw!”
The subject which Ducournau’s debut seems most interested to explore is around female sexuality: as Justine ingratiates herself further into student life, she’s immersed ever deeper into a world of lust and sweat and sex, and the writer-director manages to capture even the scent of adolescent desire on-screen. It’s presented without pretence or romanticism, instead Ducournau opts to depict this particular rite of passage for Justine as a visceral experience, devoid of the submissiveness or shame which is so often associated in art with young women learning to understand and explore their most basic human urges.
Much like Jessica Harper’s Suzy Bannion in “Suspiria”, Justine’s story could easily have been told through Marillier’s brilliant, expressive eyes alone. There’s something about watching Marillier in this role which at once feels profoundly monstrous yet recognisably human, which makes it all the more distressing an experience to watch.
What She Said:
“Those of us who love horror films that reflect societal issues should support it, no matter how much we may risk dry heaving in the process.”
There’s an attention to detail in the film’s design which helps to emphasise that persistent discomfort throughout “Raw”; Ducournau has spoken before about how the furniture in the students’ dorms was designed to have each character low to the ground, to emphasise their animalistic nature in their movements. It’s a subtle inclusion, but it’s one of many little choices which all come together to create a piece of work which is both gruelling yet impossible to resist.
It’s safe to say that “Raw” is a masterpiece of horror filmmaking. Ducournau has created something grotesque and yet full of seductive warmth and humanity. Forget the “Conjuring”s and “Paranormal Activity”s that have been churned out over the last ten years, the future of the genre can be found here, and it is shining brightly.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
The Extra Bits:
Where to watch:
Amazon: Rent & Buy
Google Play: Rent & Buy
YouTube: Rent & Buy
Who to follow:
Ella Rumpf @Ellelaella1