First time writer-director Julia Ducournau stirs Cronenbergian body horror into an intense coming of age story to create a ferocious, witty and powerful horror. It’s no wonder that Raw has kicked up such a fuss at the festivals it has played at over the last year (including the obligatory fainting audience member). It’s the best film of its kind since Ginger Snaps.
Teenage Justine (Garance Marillier) is dropped off at a prestigious veterinarian school by her parents (Laurence Lucas, Joana Preiss) and left to fend for herself. The campus is isolated and daunting, the hazing rituals are intense, and her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) has no time to show Justine the ropes. When she’s forced to break her vegetarianism for an initiation ritual, Justine’s body begins to go through some painful changes, and she develops an unstoppable hunger for meat. Satisfying her appetites isn’t going to be pretty…
The hype surrounding Raw is somewhat misleading. It is a superb piece of horror but, with the exception of a couple of moments that you might have to watch through your fingers, this isn’t too difficult on the stomach. The rawness of the film comes from Justine’s emotional experience as she’s forced through this gruelling, intense, confusing journey that shakes her loose from her childhood moorings.
Ducournau beautifully conjures the frenzied, fevered first weeks of university with all its pressures and possibilities for exploration and experimentation, discovery and humiliation. Like all great body horror, it’s gruesome and it’s scary but it’s also thrilling to watch this unpredictable, dangerous character. Marillier is absolutely brilliant as the increasingly impulsive Justine, able to flip the switch from shy teen to ravenous terror at a moment’s notice, and she’s backed up by Rumpf’s excellent performance as her older sister.
Although the Cronenberg influence is clear, Ducournau has made something that is very much its own beast. It’s savage but heartfelt, gruesome but wickedly funny, and as Justine is forced to find her own way through this nightmare, it’s moving too. This is essential viewing.