Julia Ducournau’s debut film RAW is a brutal and beautiful feast for horror fans, sure to leave many hungry for more from this talented French filmmaker
Despite being a foreign film, Raw is the rare small genre movie that has gotten a fair amount of publicity — mostly due to its sometimes gory, often horrific subject matter. It is the debut feature for writer-director Julia Ducournau, and it certainly has audiences interested in what she might bring to the table next.
The French-Belgian film stars Garance Marillier in her first feature role as Justine, a lifelong vegetarian who goes to veterinary school, following in the footsteps of both her parents and her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf).
Ducournau wastes no time in getting to the action, with a surprise hazing and partying scene happening shortly after Justine arrives at the school. She also meets her roommate during the hazing, a man named Adrien (Rabah Naït Oufella). The school’s upperclassmen seem to live to torture the new students, with call-and-response chants, daily pranks, endless rules for behavior and strange rituals. It’s this last item that leads to Justine eating meat for the first time in her life, however hesitantly.
Within a short amount of time, Justine goes from vegetarian to constantly craving animal flesh — sometimes even raw — as if it’s a hunger she can’t satiate. This leads to a shocking situation in which she tries something different: human flesh. Once Justine has discovered her full-on cannibalistic instincts, there’s no turning back. She admits to being a virgin early on in the movie, but her newfound love for all kinds of meat also has her exploring her sexuality, with a memorable scene of Justine provocatively dancing in her room while listening to an incredibly explicit rap song that praises female sexuality.
Much of the reason that RAW received as much publicity as it has is due to the graphic nature of this hybrid horror/coming-of-age film. During its run on the festival circuit, people were said to have gotten physically sick and even fainted while watching the movie due to graphic content. Unless you have a particularly weak stomach or are uninitiated in the world of horror, the chances of these extreme reactions are unlikely.RAW does contain blood and gore, as well as instances of body horror and just plain gross-out scenes, but nothing about it feels gratuitous or only included for shock value.
Despite the fact that this movie was released in March in the U.S., it would have been a great addition to Women in Horror Month (February), due to its content, its cast and its crew.
Ducourneau’s great writing, which explores a female perspective, and beautiful directing, which at times explores the female form and sexuality without objectifying, make the film what it is.
At its heart, RAW is a coming-of-age film for young women and explores not only sexuality and personal growth, but a relationship between sisters as they experience growth together at the veterinary school, away from their parents. The acting is brilliant all around, but Marillier truly stands out as a star with this performance.
You may or may not want to watch this film again once you’ve seen it, but you will want to see what its cast and crew do next, and you won’t ever forget Raw.