Raw is the first feature of French writer/director Julia Ducournau. In it, Justine (Garance Marillier), a young vet, explores her femininity, her sexuality and her reactions to independence. She mostly does this through cannibalism.
The film is a bit like Harry Potter if Hogwarts were a demented, drug-riddled brutalist nightmare in the middle of France, Harry, Hermione and Ron spent their days covered in blood, were constantly performing violent sexual acts of questionable consent and had lessons where they dissected dead dogs.
It’s a wonderfully bizarre movie set in a world that at first glance might be our own, yet quickly slides off the rails into gonzo territory. We first meet our (initially vegetarian) heroine as she’s being dropped off at vet school. Abandoned by her parents in a dreary car park, she makes her way to her dorm room and unpacks. She decides to spend her first night quietly reading in bed. Sadly, the peace is curtailed when the door is booted open and a maniac with in a balaclava burst in, starts screaming at her and trashes her stuff.
Clad in only her underwear, she and her fellow students are forced onto all fours and herded to the basement, where a door opens to reveal an absolutely kickin’ rave. They proceed through one hell of a hazing, the students made to wear slutty clothes to class, forced into diapers, covered in animal guts Carrie-style and forced to ritually eat a raw rabbit kidney.
That kidney is the first morsel of meat to pass Justine’s lips and it awakes something deep within her. That night her skin begins peeling away in a full-body rash, as if she’s a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. Before we know it she’s stealing burgers from the college canteen, gobbling down shawarma and chewing on raw chicken breasts. Nothing can satisfy her craving. Nothing except that most forbidden of meats…
I’m not going to spoil the best bits of Raw – it’s one of those movies where you sit there thinking “nah, there’s no way they’re going to do that…” shortly followed by your jaw dropping and “oh my god they did it.” It probably goes without saying that anyone squeamish about watching a pretty French girl chowing down on a human brain should probably give this a miss, especially considering paramedics had to be called to its TIFF screening to deal with fainting audience members.
Don’t presume that Ducournau is simply out to shock though. She’s carefully created a very particular world that often seems to function as a Milgram-esque psychological experiment. The college appears custom designed to awake its students inner desires, granting them complete freedom to be whoever they want to be. As such, there’s barely any adults in the film, the students apparently abandoned to their drug orgies and blood drenchings.
Granted, I’ve never actually been to a veterinary school. Maybe they’re really like this (if so, boy did I pick the wrong career path…), but while the other students merely become accustomed to dismantling animal corpses and jamming their arms up cow butts, Justine enters into a far more intimate communion with flesh. Her cannibalism also awakens a kind of nymphomania, transforming her from shy schoolgirl to bite-y sexual predator, eventually forcing herself on the men and women around her. Needless to say, it all ends in tears – the film concluding with a pitch-black punchline worthy of Lars von Triers.
On top of all the meaty symbolic stuff, Raw looks fantastic. The college location is grungy and graffiti-covered, as if this is college after the partial collapse of civilization. Ducournau also demonstrates a knack for shooting brilliantly chaotic rave scenes, her lens winding its way through sweaty, half-naked crowds in a great simulation of actually being there. She’s assisted by a top class soundtrack, featuring killer tunes like “Despair, Hangover & Ecstasy” by The Dø and “Giddy Stratospheres” by The Long Blondes.
There’s honestly not many holes I can pick in Raw (other than some hilariously fake video game playing in one scene). Garance Marillier is completely fearless in the lead role, happily working through scenes that’d probably get most young actresses angrily complaining to their agents. The supporting cast is similarly great, with Ella Rumpf deserving particular kudos for her deadpan ‘seen it all before’ older sister.
Raw makes a great sister piece to this year’s other girl cannibal movie, Nicholas Winding Refn’s excellent The Neon Demon. Both films realize the primal power in the cocktail of burgeoning femininity, buckets of blood and the consumption of human flesh. If you’re into extreme cinema, this is a no-brainer.
Raw is a charming French indie flick about a young vet exploring her burgeoning femininity and adolescent sexuality through cannibalism.