Director: Julia Ducournau
Writer: Julia Ducournau
Stars: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabat Nait Oufella
This year is shaping up to be a stellar one for genre films. The trendy and tired themes are giving way to original ideas or, at the very least, new takes on old ones, pushing boundaries and starting conversations. The latest film to add to the list is the French-Belgian film, Raw. Written and directed by Julia Ducournau, Raw explores themes of female sexuality, bullying, eating disorders, and societal, as well as familial, pressures facing young women. It is very much a coming of age film, with a female protagonist, told, with authority, by a woman. Ducournau tells the story in such an intimate manner, you feel like a voyeur.
Justine (Garance Marillier) comes from a family of veterinarians, who also happen to be staunch vegetarians. She is being driven to university where she will begin her veterinary schooling, along side older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf). As a new student, Justine is subjected to some rather aggressive hazing, including being forced to eat a raw rabbit kidney. After which Justine contracts a rather nasty rash, along with a new craving for meat. The craving coincides with her sexual awakening, bringing out very animalistic behaviour.
We know right from the start that Justine is a brilliant student and her reputation precedes her, but her naiveté leaves her vulnerable. Students and professors, alike, are not impressed with her scholastic prowess and this puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the shy teen. Older sister, Alexia, also contributes to Justine’s feelings of isolation by treating her with an air of disdain at first. Even as Justine begins to explore with more confidence, watching her navigate the waters of budding womanhood is uncomfortable.
Justine’s growing hunger for meat starts small, sneaking hamburgers in the lunch line, shawarma at an off campus gas station, and raw chicken from the fridge in the middle of the night. After a rather bizarre accident, Justine gets a taste of what she really needs, human flesh. Something she desires with even more ferocity when sexually aroused. The more she tries to control the cravings, the more out of control she becomes. Her new appetite brings her closer with her sister for a short time, but it also puts them at odds.
While this cannibal tale may not be as visually appetizing as Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal, it certainly makes an impact on your senses. The dreary atmosphere hits from the opening scene and maintains until the final queasy reveal. Surprisingly, despite a couple of gag-inducing scenes, both involving hair, Raw isn’t particularly gory and it still works.
Raw is in limited release in US theaters Friday, March 10th. Do yourself a favor and see it if you can.
Suzanne Bell | Twitter: @chazensjezebel