Man’s base animal instincts – or, in this case, woman’s – are on show in Raw; and I must tell you, the results aren’t pretty.
Justine’s (Garance Marillier’s) parents are vets and committed vegans. At 16, Justine is a brilliant and promising student and is accepted into an elite veterinary college, where both her parents studied and where her old sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), is also undertaking veterinary science. Upon entering the school, Justine steps into a decadent, merciless and dangerously seductive world, beyond even her wildest imaginings. During the first week of bizarre hazing rituals, desperate to fit in at any cost she defies her principals and eats raw meat for the first time. Justine will soon face the terrible and unimaginable consequences of her actions as her true self begins to emerge.
The name of writer and director Julia Ducournau’s principal character is a reference to Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue by the Marquis de Sade. That was the story of an innocent young woman who becomes an object of sexual pleasure and ends up herself taking pleasure in that. The link to Justine in Raw is obvious once you have seen this film.
Among directors who mean a great deal to Julia Ducournau is David Cronenberg. As she puts it: “In his films we see a lot of mutilated, wounded bodies. It could seem overly violent, but he doesn’t compromise with death. He doesn’t use words to try and intellectualise or soften it, but images. It’s very real.” She feels Cronenberg is the director who has best filmed the psychoanalytic aspect of metamorphosis, which is what Raw also deals with.
A stark, but affecting start seems disconnected from the rest of the movie, until it is cleverly woven into the tale more than half way through. In this regard, save for any other, Raw will shock you … not once, but twice. At the outset you think you are watching a rites of passage flick, in which first year veterinary science students are prey to their more seasoned peers and are in line for a solid week of humiliation. If only that was as far as it would go.
In time, though, it becomes clear that when Justine, the strict vegetarian, was pressured into eating a morsel of meat it triggered something within her. Initially, her sister Alexia comes across as a complete bitch, but the pair shares a complicated relationship. Justine is in the exploration stage, while Alexia’s primordial nature is fully developed. Just be prepared to be appalled by what you are seeing. Many will find the going tough and tasteless, if you pardon the pun.
Raw is violent, graphic and, at times, horrific. Ducournau challenges us with cannibalistic imagery. Once the feeding frenzy has begun, once Justin has tasted blood, resistance becomes futile. Raw clearly courts controversy and, as its subject matter would suggest, will only garner a select audience … with strong stomachs. Unease is its objective and not withstanding its small box office appeal, it succeeds in generating that discomfort. Some will equate that with a level of curiosity and intrigue, for this film goes where few before it have. Rated R, it scores a 7 out of 10.
Director: Julia Ducournau
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella
Release Date: 20 April 2017
Rating: R 18+
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television