Written and Directed by Julia Ducournau.
Starring Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss, Bouli Lanners, Marion Vernoux, and Jean-Louis Sbille.
When a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her.
A coming-of-age cannibal movie could – as you’d expect – never be a sweet, gentle tale of teenage years. The synopsis alone is enough to draw away your regular cinema-going audience, but those who are smart and semi-curious should flock to see this film. It won’t take long for word-of-mouth to spread around about the film and hopefully draw in the crowds. For a feature directorial debut, Julia Ducournau has immediately cemented herself as one of the 21st century’s most promising talents. Her efforts and tact with the material warrants the aforementioned word-of-mouth and those who may flock.
Raw concerns the first term of university for Justine (Garance Marillier), a smart veterinary student who groups up with her older sister once she hits campus. Coming from a vegetarian family, Justine is shocked by the initiation ceremony of eating a rabbit’s liver – a rite of passage her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) has no trouble with. After chewing and immediately throwing up the liver, Justine begins to have physical reactions – all of which lead to the animalistic urge for meat.
Genuine shock and surprise in cinema nowadays is hard to come by. The Saw franchise that milked dozens of grizzly deaths, and The Human Centipede, with absurdity that hinges on the boundaries of comedy, for example, prevent us from being truly disturbed nowadays. So, it’s a stamp of approval for those looking for it, when Raw sinks its teeth right into your psyche and leaves you pale. That isn’t to say Raw is scary, and you won’t be biting off your nails (you won’t be biting on anything, to be frank), but it is disturbing. However, this essence is nothing to shun, and the fact that the film stays with you so long after is nothing but commendable.
The face of Garance Marillier will stick in your mind as did Anthony Hopkin’s Hannibal. There’s an intensity and force to the performance that brings you as close as you’re willing to get. Additionally, the human element of Raw is pronounced all the way through, with moments of humour, sadness and shock as unquestionable as Leigh or Loach. Ducournau’s script is balanced and extremely real. It trips over slightly with a criminal aside that fails to get fully explored, yet the majority of the story is relatable (bar the cannibalism, of course) and sincere.
The two lead performances – arguably shared also with Rabah Nait Oufella – are introductions to great actors. Considering what they act through, and what physicality is required, there is not an ounce of amateur on show here. And for direction – and an eye for terrific shots – Julia Ducournau fits in the same field. You’re looking at new Noë or Winding Refn in terms of slick style, with the same penchant for colour. Still, there’s an originality to the piece, and with Ducournau being a female writer/director there’s a nicely different voice here – one that works well with both sensitivity and severity.
Suitably titled, Raw is an uncompromising, freakish delight with an expertly handled tone. Direction and acting, for what is essentially a low-budget indie, is miles ahead of some of the more seasoned filmmakers. Unmissable and unforgettable.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★