| When a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her.
French horror goes Greek weirdwave in critical and less critical options, but manages to hold onto its Cronenbergian main theme. Although the master’s problematic is here limited to the fear of rampant womanhood, there are gory visual remains that survive and pair the allegory with a little help from the viewer’s goodwill.
Most of the hype around Raw seems to center on the film’s “extreme” content which is apparently causing people to faint while watching it. I don’t really understand this, sure, the film has plenty of gruesome, realistic gore effects, but it also refrains from covering the screen in viscera at all times. Instead the gore is used pretty sparsely, in its place director Julia Ducournau creates an oppressive atmosphere of dread through the use of sound, music and framing, leaving the viewer feeling crushed and helpless, braced for the worst, at all times.
Raw is never tacky or cheesy in its depiction of its terror. The film is a superb directorial debut for Julia Ducournau. She knows the medium well and employs a plethora of aesthetics to drive the terror home, mixing it with some subtle but hilarious black comedy. It is visually stunning, perfectly capturing isolation and imprisonment, and often skin-crawlingly uncomfortable to watch. She immediately establishes herself as being able to craft adept, didactic visual metaphors. Sometimes these metaphors become almost too laboured; there are moments when the film is crushingly unsubtle.
In Garance Marillier, Ducournau has found the perfect Justine. Her transformation arc is magnificent and her multi-layered performance is career-defining. I still cannot forget the scene of her jiving sexily in front of the mirror, becoming aware of herself sexually. She exudes an animalistic energy so thick and heavy, she fused the scenes together in absolute dread. Her eventual deflowering scene, coupled with the birth of her cannibalistic leanings, is presented in total nerve-wrecking literalness.
The cinematography by Ruben Impens is fluid and complicit in the sinister going-ons; it somehow manages to glide seamlessly to places we don’t want to go and see stuff that we don’t want to see. Jim Williams’s score, the main recurring and variated theme is exquisite, perfectly encapsulating the anguish and reckoning of loss of innocence, that innocence which is expressed in counterpoint earlier through lighter, acoustic themes.
Without going into spoilery details, it’s difficult to mind too much if the film sometimes crosses over into being overly obvious. The story blurs every time-defining aspect to an abstract dystopia and penetrates a human-animal relation in every aspect of every level of human transfiguration to its animal relevant. In the end, if there’s someone to blame, unfortunately, it is family. After all, it creates every bond to personality even though in order to be consumed: families eat each other alive.
Raw is one of the most exciting directorial debuts. A lurid, nasty psychological thriller that perfectly captures the loneliness of university and the brutality of the standards set upon women in society. It’s a tale of empowerment, both terrifying and acerbically funny, that establishes Ducournau as a director to keep a very close eye on.
‘Raw’ (Grave) gets an 8.5/10
PS. Due to all the reports about people fainting and vomiting at Cannes and Gothenburg, they actually handed out barfbags at my screening in Amsterdam
Shot on 35's Rating Sheet: 9.5 – 10.0: Excellent! 8.5 – 9.5: Fantastic, but with minor flaws 7.5 – 8.5: Great, but with issues 6.5 – 7.5: Okay, but with major issues 5.5 – 6.5: Had potential, but falls flat hard. 4.5 – 5.5: Disaster!
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