Julia Ducournau’s Raw follows Justine, a young woman heading to vet school which her older sister already attends. Strictly vegetarian she is abhorred when, during one of the initiation hazing rituals, she is asked to eat a rabbit kidney and only submits following significant pressure from her sister who doesn’t want her to be an outcast. Unfortunately for Justine this taste of meat awakens something carnivorous inside which take her to extreme lengths to keep at bay and satisfy. As the hunger grows we witness her state of mind deteriorate and social interactions, relationships and personal boundaries are all smashed to pieces.
Unsurprisingly, Raw should be approached with a little caution for while its celebration of revulsion will be a joy to some it will be a step too far for many. Part of the fun was to watch other audience members do a squirmy dance in their seat during many of the gruesome bits. A scene where Justine bites into a raw chicken breast caused a satisfying gasp and audible denial from the woman behind me. Cinema was made for this type of stuff.
Garance Marillier throws herself into the role of Justine, delivering a no holds barred performance that puts to shame many celebrated Hollywood method actors. Believably fragile and naive from the outset she grows more empowered throughout as the mystery of what’s happening plays out. A dramatic female performance in horror is hard to come by so it’s a delight to see here and I look forward to what she does next.
The film must also be praised for its lack of computer graphics and a gorgeous use of practical gore effects – which any horror fan knows is the key to making a lasting impact. Early on Justine develops a rash and the scenes of her scratching raw skin are, for me, the hardest moments of the film to watch. That said, I imagine we all have different limits and Ducournau is clearly having the most fun unleashing excruciatingly unpleasant images on the audience and allowing them to go on for longer than we’d like. Sometimes this works to the films detriment and the excess becomes a little childish, coming across overly stylised or just trying too hard to be confrontational, reminding me of Nicolas Winding Refn’s recent output. A lingering shot that glides past a woman licking a man’s eyeball that then centres onto a sultry Justine with her legs akimbo felt particularly empty.
A cautious recommendation then – depending on your gore and ickiness tolerance – and, as with the other impressive new wave of horror films by women (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, The Babadook, The Invitation, off the top of my head), Raw works best when it’s getting under your skin.
Raw was on general release in the UK on 7th April 2017.