Raw **** ½ / *****
Directed by: Julia Ducournau.
Written by: Julia Ducournau.
Starring: Garance Marillier (Justine), Ella Rumpf (Alexia), Rabah Naït Oufella (Adrien), Laurent Lucas (Father), Joana Preiss (Mother).
It’s too bad that Julia Ducournau’s Raw has become known as the filled that made people vomit and pass out at last year’s TIFF – at least to a certain extent. It’s probably good to get more people to see the film – a foreign language horror film is not the easiest sell in the world. Yet, I think because of the films reputation, I’m not sure the right audience is going to find the film. Yes, there are a couple of (appropriately) nauseating moments in Raw – but overall, the film is an intelligent and thoughtful coming-of-age horror film – a brutal and bloody tale of sisterhood that resembles the great Canadian horror film Ginger Snaps – but this one goes even further.
The film stars Garance Marillier as Justine, a 16-year-old girl, with two veterinarian parents. The family is also strict vegetarians – so strict in fact, that Justine has never eaten meat. She is a gifted student – and being taken to the same vet school both her parents went to, and her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is already a second year student. There is genuine affection, but also rivalry between the two sisters – the year away from home has allowed Alexia t come into her own, to become brash and bold, and adventuresome – while Justin remains extremely quiet and reserved. The older students have a week of initiation rituals for the so-called rookies – most of them fairly harmless, but one of which requires each rookie to eat a piece of raw rabbit liver. Justine does in fact eat it – after first refusing, and then caving to peer pressure. Eating the rabbit liver, as it does so often, turns Justine into a ravenous monster with a need to consume human flesh.
Yes, there are a few moments that will make you want turn away from the screen in disgust, or vomit for those with weak stomachs – some skin peeling scenes that are gross, and others (not sickened me as much as the hair scene – but that could be me). But in terms of extreme horror films, there’s nothing in Raw that is that far over the top – and every moment that is nauseating, is earned by Ducournau, who has really made a film about coming to terms with who – and what – you are. The film is an extreme version of what everyone goes through – getting to college, experimenting with things, being humiliated, and figuring out your own appetites, while trying to fit in with everyone around you, while acknowledging that not everyone will be able to do that. The sisterly relationship at the heart of the movie is complex is the best of ways for drama – they love each other, push each other, torment and test each other, and ultimately compete with each other. The fact that they have the same afflictions makes complete sense – and pushes things in a strange direction.
Newcomer Marillier is great as Justine – whose emotions run the gamut through the course of the film, from her quiet opening scenes, to some of the most aggressive and daring scenes of the year. Rumpf as Alexia keeps pace with her the whole way. This is Ducournau’s debut feature, and it is remarkably assured, and streamlined – making her one of the best new filmmakers to watch for. I don’t really think the last scene in the film is necessary – it’s not really one twist too many (does it even count as a twist), as a little more anti-climactic than intended. Yet, that’s pretty much the only negative thing I have to say about Raw – another in a growing list of great horror films for 2017.