Cannibalism is nothing new in horror cinema, but it’s given a fresh, interesting spin in French director Julia Ducournau’s debut film Raw. I hereby dispense the usual 18 certificate warnings for bad language, sexual content, violence and strong gory images, though in the context of the film nothing felt gratuitous. Indeed, whilst this does contain pretty nasty stuff, we aren’t talking Romero levels of gore.
The plot concerns Justine (the excellent Garance Marillier), a virginal young woman about to begin study at the same vet school her parents attended, where her older sister is currently a student. Justine is subjected to the traditional hazing initiations of said school, which includes eating a piece of raw liver (which her sister urges her to just go along with, in spite of her revulsion). Unfortunately this awakens an unbidden taste for meat which begins to grow to dangerous levels.
Performances are very good, particularly from the afore-mentioned Marillier. Ducournau generates tremendous atmosphere in metamorphosis sequences, for instance in a revolting hair regurgitation scene and another moment beneath claustrophobic bed sheets involving a frenzied scratching fit. Oh, and come armed with a twisted sense of humour for a particularly squirm-inducing bikini wax. Elsewhere long takes of woozy, sweaty drunken raves, the underworld of humiliating student initiations and one or two genuine shock moments all prove highly memorable. There are clear inspirations from Cronenberg body-horror pics such as Shivers and The Brood, as well as Brian De Palma’s Carrie and obviously cannibal movies including We Are What We Are. Yet Raw is also very much it’s own carnivorous beast.
Most non-horror types won’t be able to get past the subject matter, and that’s entirely fair enough. For those with the stomach for it though, this is actually a very clever and surprisingly funny satire on peer pressure, fitting in and the herd mentality, a subject all too pertinent in today’s social media sheeple culture (filming on phones before actually bothering to intervene in violence is one alarming modern habit highlighted). The film also has interesting things to say about sexual awakening and family relationships, particularly the bond between siblings.
In short, Raw is an arresting, distinctive, gruesome and gripping debut.