Julia Ducornau’s feature debut Raw (Grave) is a biting coming-of-age film with a delicious twist. Young, naïve and a devout vegetarian Justine moves to study veterinary medicine and is met with a brutal hazing ritual that leaves her feeling particularly ravenous and hungry for meat. Soon raw chicken breast eaten at the dead of night just won’t do it anymore and Justine explores what might be called the other white meat, also known as human flesh.
Raw is sensual, sexual and utterly wild. Raw earned itself a pretty hardcore reputation after it was reported several audience members either left screenings or required medical attention. While these stories are most likely blown out of proportion, Raw is undeniably an affecting watch. Ducornau, who also wrote the script, never treats Justine’s “condition”, her slow descent into cannibalism, with anything but authentic curiosity. Justine never becomes the villain of the story, even when she slips and nearly loses herself all together.
Garance Marillier turns in a fearless and committed performance as Justine, who finds herself, her identity in the most horrific way. If you take out the cannibal elements, Raw portrays a relatively ordinary, if horrific coming-of-age experience. The hazing is cruel and at times inexcusable, but it’s what a lot of us have gone through and Marillier never takes her performance too far, it never becomes a caricature. Ella Rumpf is also impressive as Justine’s older sister and the dynamic between the two sisters forms the heart of Raw, thanks to the chemistry between Marillier and Rumpf.
Especially fascinating is Justine’s exploration of her own sexuality. A scene where she loses her virginity to her roommate is primal, disturbing and very erotic. There is something beautiful about Justine’s sexual hunger, her understanding of her own needs. Justine, and Ducornau, strike a delicate balance of something disturbing and something honest. Raw is incredibly mature for a feature film debut for Ducornau.
Supporting everything is Jim Williams’ hypnotising score that pierces the thick and heavy atmosphere expertly handled by Ducornau. Visually, Raw is clever but at times restrained. It doesn’t treat the gore and violence gluttonously, but with a sense of necessity. Raw works both as a straight forward cannibal horror film, but it’s also a thoughtful exploration of growing up and finding your truest self. And just when you thought Ducornau had used up all possible twists and turns, she throws in one more blow at the very last minute. The ending of Raw is as inspiring as it is devastating. This is a must-see for anyone calling themselves a horror fan.
Dir: Julia Ducornau
Scr: Julia Ducornau
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella
Prd: Jean des Forêts, Julie Gayet, Jean-Yves Roubin, Nadia Turincev, Cassandre Warnauts
DOP: Ruben Impens
Music: Jim Williams
Country: France – Italy – Belgium
Run time: 99 min