Running Time: 99 minutes
Director: Julia Ducournau
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Naït Oufella, Laurent Lucas and Joana Preiss.
A young student veterinarian struggles through the hazing period in her new college, the same institution her older sister attends. The students are forced to endure numerous ordeals, one of which leads our vegetarian lead to consume raw meat, awakening a previously hidden lust…
French-Belgian Horror film, Raw, arrived in cinema screens riding a fairly strong wave of controversy, in true art-house fashion. Thanks to reports of viewer nausea sweeping through a festival screening last year, it came loaded with the suggestion that it could be the latest barf-inducer to gain infamy as some sort of post-modern “torture” flick. As in, one of those efforts that carries the added challenge of being considered a rite-of-passage to sit through.
As always, upon watching the film itself, it’s difficult to see exactly where such hysteria would come from, as it’s actually an extremely well crafted piece of work, with a sisterly relationship firmly as the center-piece. You could even argue that the film has a rather soft core, with a shocking degree of tenderness and sympathy towards the lead character Justine’s, plight.
It is gruesome and nauseating on occasion, but never gratuitous. Pitched somewhere between the artful blood-letting of Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day and the deliciously funny Ginger Snaps , Raw has been labelled a “Black Comedy” by many, but there’s likely to be a firm split between those who admire the humour, and those who are left completely cold.
Obviously, there are a few moments contained within the snappy running time that will provide a mild dose of churning in the gut. There are certain… side effects to developing a taste for flesh, and it doesn’t take much imagination to work out the nature of those. At its heart, this is a cannibal film, and horror movies have always delighted in presenting a grisly discovery upon one’s own body in salacious detail.
The BBFC’s notes at the beginning also inform that there’s a degree of detail to wounds being shown on screen, but while effective and certainly bloody, there isn’t much here that would trouble a more seasoned fright-enthusiast. Those few instances of gruesome wounds are reasonably fleeting, and in one key instance, definitely played for twisted laughs.
Aside from the odd moment of splatter, the film bubbles along more at the pace of a high-school drama, with events that transpire within the timetable dictating the peaks and valleys of the plot, providing a nice backdrop for the personal issues unfolding.
Even more remarkable, and one aspect that arguably could have been investigated further, is the depiction of the students themselves, in particular their traditional hazing and pranks.
These will sound like the groans of an elderly curmudgeon, but their behaviour is utterly despicable. From the moment Justine arrives at the college, she’s subject to her possessions being tossed out the window like a filthy ash-tray being emptied, a late-night trek through the dark in just her underwear, and the aforementioned consumption of a particularly grisly hunk of meat.
In short; it looks the sort of place where you’d be far too busy hiding in a corner to even contemplate dissecting a cow. First-time director Ducournau arranges these scenes in a terrific fashion. It would difficult not to feel sympathy for Justine and the others throughout these prolonged moments, which are both incredibly convincing, and are akin to student versions of militaristic, fascist demonstrations you’d see recreated in the likes of The Hunger Games.
The film also explores the subject matter from a distinctly female point of view, with several scenes that both genders will find blackly comic, though more sheltered viewers might be surprised by. This has been the case throughout other genre entries in recent years aspiring to similar ground (The morbid Nina Forever springs to mind, as does the under-appreciated Starry Eyes or even the fun and-more-blatantly-referential slasher tribute, The Final Girls ).
The director however, has stated that she is keen to not to have her work held up as as ”genderised” either within her viewer-ship or the film itself. Ironically, her approach is also reflected in her spiky, but non-conforming lead character, a brilliantly written heroine by any standard.
However intended, such concerns definitely recall the brutally sharp Ginger Snaps, but it would be a disservice to overstate the very natural female-orientated incidents in the film as for any one section of the audience. As with the aforementioned 2000 Canadian entry, Raw is a aggressively individual, and very much the opposite of box-ticking.
Where Raw strays from its predecessor, is in the very different aesthetics. It isn’t shot like a traditional horror film, instead offering striking images that wouldn’t be out of place in the high-end output of Xavier Dolan. The cinematography comes courtesy of Ruben Impens, and is filled with bold contrasts and striking use of colour within the college, that balances with the more delicate realism of the exteriors.
Raw rings true, with naturalistic dialogue, and a hefty dose of bitchiness to the relationship between the two sisters. In fact, their interaction really is the most satisfying aspect of the movie, and the director combines a playful rivalry, with a blood-deep bond without ever hammering the viewer on the dome with anything resembling sentimentality.
Maximum pathos comes courtesy of the terrific performances. In fact, Raw wouldn’t work at all, if not for the courageous turns from Ella Rumpf (Alexia), and Garance Marillier (Justine), making her mark with a feature film début that is full of volatile energy.
Visceral and at times shocking; Raw is by turns haunting, but also wickedly humorous. Ducournau’s film is an excellent effort at concocting a fresh twist on well-worn genre concepts, placing it within the context of a coming-of-age tale. Raw deserves to held up alongside other notable modern horror flicks such as We Are What We Are, Ginger Snaps, and Nina Forever. It’s certainly a searingly memorable effort.