If Raw is of any indication, then we might have something really special with writer/director, Julia Ducournau, who makes her theatrical debut. Raw is the kind of film that brilliantly extends a metaphor to the most extreme places, while also managing to stay true to the humanity and emotions behind the story that the metaphor is trying to tell. Raw is a film that is ultimately about femininity, about sexual awakening, coming to terms with who you are, and the anxieties of what happens when someone who has generally been sheltered goes to college.
It’s also about cannibalism. Lots and lots of gory, bloody cannibalism.
To rewind a bit, in the beginning, we’re introduced to Justine (Garance Marillier), a girl raised a vegetarian by her family and she is starting veterinary school. However, after a hazing ritual, she experiences strange things happening with her body and a craving for meat, which leads to her getting an appetite for another kind of meat.
The idea of telling a story a young woman’s sexual awakening through a body-horror-esque tale of cannibalism is utterly bonkers, but Ducournau manages to make it work by getting all the small details right. A lot of it shows through Marillier’s performance, which is just pitch perfect. She plays the awkwardness of a character in any John Hughes-esque teen movie and is able to effortlessly switch gears when it comes to the really gnarly stuff. It is nothing short of incredible.
The cool thing about how Ducournau tells the story is that is actually works well as a college movie. The school is surprisingly well realized, especially with the various activities that the students do when they aren’t in class. The relationship between Justine and her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf) plays with such relatability, capturing both the rivalry between siblings, as well as the love that comes with Alexia trying to help her little sister when she finds out about her strange appetite. It’s a fascinating blend of different genres and it is delivered with such confidence and style.
Though, it would be hard to fully classify Raw as a horror film, since the main arc is all about Justine coming to terms with the changes that she is going through, it does however contain a lot of disturbing moments that play really well with a crowd. The gore feels intensely real and delightfully gruesome. The film even has a great sense of humor about itself, especially with how characters react to certain things. It doesn’t go for cheap laughs though, it keeps things the humor grounded on character and it plays to the tonal tightrope walk that Ducournau handles with elegance.
Raw may have gotten a lot of attention when ambulances were allegedly called during the screening at the Toronto International Film Festival due to people getting sick (sad to report that there were no faintings at my screening), but what Raw should be getting attention for is the genius storytelling from Julia Ducournau, which is layered and delivered with great filmmaking. I don’t know if I’ve seen anything quite like it. The sheer inventiveness and creativity brought to the screen is unreal and it isn’t often that you can say you see a film that makes you deeply empathize with a cannibal. This is clearly a work of a master filmmaker and you’d be doing a disservice by missing out on it. But just to be safe, maybe keep a barf bag on standby. 90/100
Focus World has picked up Raw for US distribution in spring of 2017.