Director – Julia Ducournau
Cast – Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Marouan Iddoub, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Jonah Preiss, Bouli Lanners
Release Year – 2017
Reviewed by John of the Dead
It is almost mandatory that every year the horror genre and its fans hype a film or two, and Raw is one of those films for 2017. Deemed a film that would make audience members barf and walk out, which apparently happened at TIFF, it is only natural that this flick would lead people to expect gross-out scenes worthy of the hype. I guess said people have not seen the Guinea Pig films, as Raw was a tame effort that left me underwhelmed in that regard. Hold the phone though. While it did not live up to that element, this French flick still delivers a horrific experience that brings new ideas into a genre where such things should be welcomed.
Justine is a lifelong vegetarian starting her journey to become a veterinarian. She joins her sister in attending their mother’s alma mater, going to far as to join her mother’s sorority. When a hazing ritual forces this her to break veg and consume raw rabbit kidney, she is affected with more than a sour stomach. Alongside the strange rashes covering her body comes a psychological change – one where she suffers cannibalistc urges.
Raw is the debut feature film for French auteur Julia Ducournau. She kicks things off quickly, developing Justine as an innocent soul who holds her values close to her. She is strict in her beliefs, especially when it comes to not ingesting meat. The hazing begins on her first day on campus, and it only worsens the next day. It is this day, 21 minutes into the film, when the pledges are bathed in blood and forced to consume the raw rabbit kidney. This starkly contrasts with Justine, and her free-spirited sister Alexia takes it upon herself to force her sister to do it. It seems like an innocent act that she can soon forget, and get back to living the lifestyle she prefers. Of course, this would be a boring movie if there were to be no consequences or side effects. This conflict hits quick (about 3 minutes later the next morning), leaving the viewer just as in shock as Justine is. Her condition is played off as a food-born illness, but that doesn’t explain her growing taste for meat – raw meat that is.
The horror that stems from this transformation makes this more of a psychological horror flick than a physical one. There are periods of time where nothing really “horrific” happens, as we are instead treated to the downward spiral that is Justine’s psyche. Luckily, things do manifest with developments every so often, with each sequence of horror growing in severity. We watch Justine and Alexia go through desperate measures to appease each other, and we also watch them tear at each other’s throats. I was unaware of the level of drama this effort contained, so you should be aware of that. I do not feel that it detrimented from the film, as it is obvious that this was the filmmaker’s intent. The physical horror does take a bit of a backseat to the dramatic element, yet Ducournau winds ways to keep you sucked in. To start, her atmosphere is great. I enjoyed the Suspiria-esque musical score and her use of practical effects for the gore scenes. While not a gory mess by any means we are at least treated to a few scenes that could provide some shock to the viewer.
With this being a psychological effort you can expect this to be a character-driven piece, and our leads did a great job. Garance Marillier gives us a fantastic performance as Justine, especially when you consider that this is also her first feature film. Previous to Raw she had only acted in short films. Her plight feels real and her execution of a rather “hairy” scene is fantastic. The build up her character goes through is intense, and this results in one of the most tense sex scenes I have seen in recent day. This scene, which is definitely my favorite scene in the film, is an obvious example of how great acting and direction can turn a simple act we’ve seen a thousand times into something terrifying. Ella Rumpf portrays Alexia and she excels at being the bad seed. We don’t see her go through the same emotional extremes as Justine as Alexia has always been the problem child, but you do see how their demons are more genetically alike than meets the eye. Throw in Alexia’s gay roommate Bizut and you have the core characters. Marouan Iddoub’s performance as Bizut is solid, and I was glad to see his character was not wasted despite taking a backseat to the sisters. Aside from their parents there are no other major characters to pay attention to, and the parents only matter during the beginning and end of the film.
While unfairly being deemed a gag-out flick thanks to what “happened” at TIFF, Raw does deliver some good horror in the vein of cannibal films with practical effects. This isn’t anything like the Italian cannibal films of the 70s. Instead, it feels like Ginger Snaps if you were to replace werewolves with cannibals.
Overall, Raw is a good effort and a great debut for Julia Ducournau and Garance Marillier. If you are seeking an artsy psychological drama/horror flick with more gore than the usual artsy flick, give this a shot.