Written and directed by Julia Ducournau, her alarmingly confident debut feature Raw is a French-Belgian horror film, a fleshy examination of adolescence.
Following in the footsteps of her parents (Joana Preiss and Laurent Lucas) and older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf), timid Justine (Garance Marillier) has enrolled in veterinary school. As part of a relentless hazing ritual, Justine, her affable room-mate Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella) and other fellow rookies are forced to eat raw rabbit kidney. Justine refuses as she was raised as a strict vegetarian, however, her own sister forces her to consume the meat. Shortly after, Justine finds herself overwhelmed with new and forbidden cravings.
Borrowing from Jorge Michel Grau’s We Are What We Are, Raw is also a coming-of-age tale masquerading as a cannibalistic horror film. That’s not to say these films aren’t grisly. Raw boasts Cronenberg-style body horror as bodies mutate, intertwined with more understated, unsettling moments. Striking imagery of a horse running on a treadmill, pushing against restraints like our heroine, oddly lingers much like a similar scene in Gore Verbinski’s 2002 remake The Ring. However, buried beneath the surface are life’s initiation tests that are universally endured. From breaking the cycle of family expectations, confronting sexual desires and longing to fit in.
Innocent and drenched in blood courtesy of her senior students, Marillier’s dazzling performance echoes Sissy Spacek’s turn in Carrie. Her transformation from prey to predator is extraordinary, from awkward teenage moments in front of a mirror to dominating sexual encounters. The authentic sisterly bond Marillier and Rumpf are able to project offers touching scenes as they prop each other up emotionally. As well as comical and sometimes intense moments as they bicker in a way that only siblings can. Justine and Oufella’s Adrien also share a palpable connection from the outset. There’s an unspoken empathy between the pair, with the now openly gay Adrien understanding the struggle of suppressing who you truly are.
As impulses intensify, Ruben Impens’ cinematography almost becomes hallucinogenic. From starkly lit, dizzying raves to frantic battles beneath bed-sheets, reinforced by Jim Williams’ hypnotic, foreboding score. A Frequent collaborator with director Ben Wheatley, working on the unnerving Kill List and the bizarre A Field in England. Williams is adept at conjuring and sustaining the diverse tones found within the horror genre.
Julia Ducournau’s fearless debut grapples with growing up, vibrantly illustrating the gruesome but joyous voyage of self-discovery.