This superb debut feature is a confidently-mounted campus cannibal horror film with a fascinating character arc for its leading lady.
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella
Plot: When a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her.
Awards: Won FIPRESCI Prize – Director’s Fortnight; Nom. for Camera d’Or & Queer Palm (Cannes)
International Sales: Wild Bunch
Subject Matter: Slightly Disturbing – Cannibalism; Coming-of-age; Identity
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
First Published: 5 Sep 2017
One of the breakout hits of 2016 by a female filmmaker making her first feature, Raw by Julia Ducournau, together with the likes of such pictures as I Am Not a Witch (2017) by Rungano Nyoni, The Lure (2015) by Agnieszka Smoczynska, and Mustang (2015) by Deniz Gamze Ergüven of recent years, sees a new, distinctive voice of cinema emerging with flair, style and confidence.
Certainly a film that doesn’t compromise on the experience of viewing a bold, unflinching work of art, Raw takes the cannibal movie and wraps it in a campus setting—in this case, a university for aspiring vets—with themes associating with the coming-of-age, sexuality and identity of a young woman serving as tantalising ingredients.
One should not watch Raw on an empty stomach, and the ruckus that it caused when it screened at various festivals—some folks had to rush to the loos to barf—is a testament to the film’s visual power.
Ducournau’s work is provocative for the right reasons. She doesn’t sensationalise for sensationalising sake, but rather she makes us identify so vividly with her main character, Justine (Garance Marillier), that her visceral experiences—either hallucinatory or revelatory in nature—are ours to share.
“I’m sure you’ll find a solution, honey.”
In Raw’s most brilliant moment, Justine accidentally severs someone’s finger. Shocked by her ghastly action, she slumbers into a daze and then proceeds to gather and inspect the finger.
What comes next is what cinema could only do: repulsed yet curious, Justine quickly licks the bloody finger, and at that precise moment, a flash of dazzling non-diegetic electronic music immediately plays, capturing with astute subjectivity the taboo thrill of being drawn to cannibalism for the first time.
I must mention that Justine is a vegetarian, and this is established with economic efficiency in the prologue. With a new school to go to, and new friends to make (all freshmen have to undergo a carnivorous hazing ritual dictated by their seniors), Justine’s coming-of-age parallels her newfound desire for meat.
Marillier, her acting debut in a feature, gives an exceptional performance that is also physically transformative. Her body language and posture change throughout the film, mirroring her descent—or is it ascent—towards self-identification. Raw is disturbing but invigorating, a shot in the arm for those who are willing to take the risk.