Written and Directed by Julia Ducournau
Justine has arrived at veterinary school, like her parents before her and her sister, Alexia, who is in her second year. The family are devoted vegetarians, and Justine attempts to uphold this tradition at the school. However, the hazing of first years leads to her being forced to consume a rabbit’s kidney and being doused in buckets of animal blood. Something begins to change in the young woman, and she finds herself overwhelmed with a hunger for meat, even consuming it raw from the fridge. At momentary slip of scissors beings Justine to a new precipice where she develops a taste for human flesh.
It is impossible not to have an intensely visceral reaction to Raw. This is writer/director Julia Ducournau feature film debut, and this left me incredibly disappointed. I was ready to delve into her backlog because this is a horror masterwork. While we have to wait for her follow-up, Raw is a film that looks to have a lot to unfold in the meantime. There are beautiful impressionistic moments up against pure psychotic terror.
Ducournau has a profound understanding of pacing in horror and how the way information is delivered to the audience is crucial to conveying the right tone. For example, the film opens on a very wide shot of a rural road. After a few beats of silence, a figure jumps out into the road forcing a car off and crashing into a tree. The figure calmly walks over to the car, and we cut to the title card. It’s not until the midway point that we revisit this incident, and its significance is enormous. The way an artist sets the table in horror is typically more important than the actual payoff or scare.
Gore is an element of horror I waver back and forth on, typically not being a fan of its gross misuse in a lot of mainstream horrors. Your typical Hollywood horror flick presents a sanitized gore that never feels authentic. Raw is meticulous in the way it rends flesh from the bone. A bite on a lip during a sexual encounter seems more horrific because the tone is so bleak.
Aside from Ducournau direction, the film rests on the shoulders of Garance Marillier. If you’ve seen this movie, then you might be shocked to know Marillier is only 19 years old. I assumed she was older, but with a younger look, thus playing a college freshman. The skill this woman has is remarkable for being such a young age. She starts the film as a very innocent, overwhelmed student, becomes a calculating hunter, and wavers in between ridden with guilt about what she has seen and done.
The film is deeply referential to horror (Carrie, The Shining), but isn’t simply a gory horror picture. There is a lot being said about the exploration of female sexuality, particularly of young women’s fears of their sexuality. Justine has a roommate, Adrien, is a gay man who revels in his sexuality. The elder sister, Alexia also shows more confidence in her body and is pushing Justine towards discovering her own. This leads to a very pivotal scene where Alexia is essentially forcing a hot wax onto Justine with repercussions that reverberate throughout the film. If you come to Raw expecting a bloody slasher flick or a cannibal picture then you are going to be disappointed. Raw aspires to greater heights than that, using the conventions of the genre as a jumping off point to tell a deeply disturbing and relevant story.