Director: Julia Ducournau
Starring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Joana Preiss, and Bouli Lanners
It was a Friday afternoon. The group of people from the office I worked at were going to get lunch at a new sushi place. At this point I wasn't a big fan of sushi but was willing to give it another try. One of my co-workers had never had it before either. The introduction for us was sashimi, a Japanese delicacy of very fresh raw meat. I hated it, my co-worker absolutely loved it. I remember him calling the meal "life changing".
The awakening of emotions and instincts in a young female veterinary student in director Julia Ducournau's new film "Raw" also brings about life-changing events, more than just finding a new favorite food. The experience in this film is so much more than just the visceral imagery you might connect to a film about cannibalism. Instead, the connection to the title of the film holds a deeper and more thought-provoking meaning, one that evokes a strong look at feminism, sexuality, and maturity. Ms. Ducournau has crafted a bold and confident dramatic horror film.
Justine (Garance Marillier) is a young vegetarian woman who is on the fast academic track to veterinary school. However, after a carnivorous hazing ritual that the upperclassmen impose on all new students, in which they must eat raw meat, Justine begins to have strong cravings.
At the core of "Raw" is a coming-of-age story about a young girl thrown into maturity. In the film she is basically kidnapped in a cruel hazing ceremony that ends up with her at a wild party that feels like something out of "The Warriors". Ms. Ducournau does an exceptional job of displaying Justine's confusion and frustration with people around her but also how the new experience naturally entices her inquisitive nature. It's within this maturation that Justine begins to find herself, where she begins to find her true self. Regardless of how strange and unusual that person might be, the film never flinches during these awkward and startling moments.
Also interwoven into the film is a story about family, specifically the bonds of sisterhood. Justine's older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is naturally perturbed that her younger, annoying, know-it-all sister is in school with her. Early in the film you get a sense that these sisters both love each immensely, however you also understand that the sisters are naturally competitive with each other. This leads to interesting moments that display the heartfelt and the cruel nature that siblings can have with one another, specifically in the way that they communicate with each other. The aggression builds, but so does the compassion and understanding. It's a complex relationship, and as aspects of cannibalism begin to take hold you can feel that these two siblings understand that the only way they will survive is to help each other. It's a fascinating narrative undertone that provides a depth to challenge the intense aspects of the film.
The performances from Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf are exceptional. They embody the difficult aspects very well, but that isn't very hard to do considering the graphic nature of the theme. Instead it's the subtle progression of these two women and how they change, you get insight into what is shaping Justine and what has already shaped Alexia.
"Raw", as the title implies in many ways, is a film that can be uncomfortable and difficult to watch, but not simply because of the intense scenes of gore and violence but rather the emotional turmoil that many of the characters in the film are dragged through. This isn't a film for every film fan, this includes horror fans. Still, director Julia Ducournau has crafted an impressive debut film that challenges how filmmakers are utilizing genre film to tell stories. Whether a commentary about gender and sexual empowerment, a coming-of-age film that displays the fragility of the process, or a film about family and how unique the definition is to everyone; its quality that I hope continues within the genre.
4.25 out of 5.00