raw_3Year: 2016
Director(s): Julia Ducournau
Writer(s): Julia Ducournau
Region of Origin: France/Belgium

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Color, 99 mins

Synopsis: When a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her. (Source)

Each one of us hits our do-or-die moment sooner or later, a time when we’re really forced out of our comfort zone, no longer able to distance ourselves with what’s happening all around us. Rather than shrink further into isolation, we’re suddenly open to new experiences, thirsting and craving for things we’ve never done. Among other things, Julia Ducournau’s Raw is a literal metaphor for this, chronicling the transformation of a vet school rookie into a budding cannibal. That’s a gross oversimplification, but its a fitting entry point into Ducournau’s twisted coming-of-age film. What she’s created is truly unlike anything else, mixing stomach-turning gore with intimate moments of sisterhood, sexual awakening and cheeky humor. Boasting a searing performance from Garance Marillier, Ducournau’s film simply defies explanation, unfolding like a rising tide of absurd unpredictability.

16-year-old Justine (Garance Marillier) comes from a family of veterinarians and vegetarians, and the time has come for her to join the ranks. She joins her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), at the same school that her parents went to, unaware of how taxing its first year can be on its students. As soon as she arrives, she and her classmates are subjected to extreme, humiliating bouts of hazing. It starts off innocuous at first, like when she’s abducted in the middle of the night and forced to go clubbing, but gets real when she’s tasked with eating a piece of raw rabbit kidney. At first, her body doesn’t react well to the organ, but she soon finds herself obsessed with consuming as much meat as she can get a hold of. Soon enough, Justine’s sister finds out about her secret, leading her into a spiraling bout of confusion and paranoia, unearthing family secrets and abhorrent, dangerous addictions in the process.

Ducournau’s crafted a film where literally anything can happen, and does, but rather than being a senseless endurance test for gorehounds, the story’s graphic insanity gives way to really primal, honest emotions of belonging and self-worth. The core of the story is Justine’s quest for identity and acceptance in a world that she’s still learning to accept herself – in her case, it’s a journey that yields a thirst for the flesh of family and friends, a farcical way of connecting on a deeper level. The metaphor is obvious, but highly effective under Ducournau’s handling, deftly mixing in moments of Cronenberg-esque body horror with an authentic portrait of sibling rivalry and dysfunction. In that way, the film is strikingly original, almost amounting to a grotesque type of family film that’s oddly touching in ways you’d never expect. Make no mistake, Ducournau’s film isn’t for those with a weak stomach, but it’s an absolutely sobering experience that hits hard emotionally, with a thematic heft and visual poetry that sticks with us.

raw_1Performances across the board match the intensity of Ducournau’s direction, but a few stand out. As Justine, Garance Marillier is the heart and soul of the film. Initially reserved and aloof, her transformation throughout blindsides us. She balances the film’s humor really well, with deadpan timing and an insidious repression that turns her character and the film upside down. This is a truly unforgettable character, and Marillier grounds the film’s absurdity with real heart. As the older sister, Alexia, Ella Rumpf is a great contrast to Marillier. She’s the more confident, cool, version of the pair, displaying a charm that entrances Justine while also remaining intimidating. Rumpf’s character has her own set of issues to deal with, and she gives Alexia a strength while also hinting at a growing insecurity. It’s worth nothing that though the two are frequently together throughout, no encounter is the same. They have a very complex, love-hate relationship that feels genuine, with respect and love always peeking through the jealousy and conflict. Lastly, Rabah Nait Oufella shines as Justine’s roomie, Adrien. He’s another character with repressed desires and feelings, with Oufella giving the film a few moments of comic relief and social conflict.

Watching Raw, there’s just no way to tell where it’s going, and that kind of free-wheeling abandon contributes to it being one of the most original films of the year. Horror fans will love it, but its much more than that label would suggest, transcending genre with a really tender story of self discovery (that just so happens to include a few moments of shock and awe sprinkled throughout). Ducournau’s debut feature is fully formed and stands on a level of its own, pushing the idea of horror into relatable ideas, while finding warmth and twisted glee with its humor. My advice, leave all your expectations at the door and let the film totally bowl you over.

SG