Release Date: March 10, 2017 (NY & LA), March 17, 2017
Directed by: Julia Ducournau
Written by: Julia Ducournau
Producer: Jean des Forêts
Starring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella
Studio: Focus Features
Running Time: 98 minutes
Upon entering the beautiful Alamo Drafthouse Theater in San Francisco, CA on Tuesday evening, I was given a barf bag. No, really. I knew this was going to be a brutal film, given all of the buzz that had surrounded it. I knew of the cannibalistic tendencies that awaited me, soon to be emitted from the rays of the projection room upstairs. But a barf bag?
Talk doesn’t do this film justice. You have to see it to believe it. The trailer alone is gruesome enough to provide some context as to what awaits anyone who steps through the doors of a movie theater and into a screening of Raw, the feature film debut from French-director Julia Ducournau.
We meet Justine (Garance Marillier), a young but painfully shy veterinarian student entering school to follow in the footsteps of both her parents (Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss) and her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf). Her entirely family is vegetarian; eating any kind of meat or meat by-product is unthinkable. Upon Justine’s arrival at school, she soon discovers the hazing rituals that are inflicted upon all of those that are entering the veterinary program: intense drug-riddled parties, abhorrent amounts of alcohol consumption, mattresses strewn out across campus thus forcing the “fresh meat” to find and bring their items all the way back up the long staircases of their dorm buildings.
One of these hazing rituals pushes Justine over the edge, as she is forced to eat a raw rabbit kidney. “Everyone does it,” her sister remarks, one of those involved in the inflection of activities upon her fellow underclassman. This doesn’t sit well with Justine. Before long, a blotchy rash develops all over her body, peeling away layer by layer of skin. The doctor declares that she’s having an allergic reaction (more than likely from having meat for the first time in her life). But that single act of consumption is the catalyst for a much greater horror that audiences will witness. In a matter of time, she’s bent over, head first in the refrigerator, eating a raw piece of chicken breast. You can sense her hunger for more just by looking at her facial expression. Something primal has been unlocked in her biological and psychological code. The hazing has done something to her, that's evident. But what we discover is that it's caused her to do far more shudder-inducing acts than any writer could put on paper.
The beauty of Raw is the simplicity. It’s not a gore-fest; you’re not seeing body parts lobbed off in every single scene, and blood is used sparingly compared to other films in the genre. But when those scenes hit, you least expect it. Ducournau is quite good at this form of misdirection, and Garance Marillier does an exemplary job (in her first major role) of bringing the source material of this film to life. The dark tones of Ruben Impens’ cinematography and the perfectly- scored soundtrack from Jim Williams all combine to create elements of filmmaking that will shake you to your core. Raw will make your skin crawl and squirm in your seat during moments like this. I saw the film several days ago, and I still feel squeamish thinking about the Brazilian wax scene (don’t say that I didn’t warn you.)
In a strange and successful way, Raw is able to blend in over-arching themes surrounding sexuality and womanhood amidst all of the shock. Generally, when sex is added into a horror, it’s a bit of cliche and used only as a plot device for the killer to come into the room and do his thing. Raw is far different; in as Justine begins to realize her “instincts”, she also becomes in tune with her sexuality. When she’s laying on the table in the doctor’s office, she notes that “she’s never…” Throughout the film, we see her character begin to blossom and become more in-tune with herself as a sexual being, and this ends up going hand in hand with her cannibalistic instincts that progress gradually. It’s shocking, and beautifully executed.
If you are a horror fan, you are sure to get a kick out of Raw. It’s quite different from anything I’ve seen out on the market, as it’s not a typical horror film. It takes you down many unexpected roads, and it brings it back around in a callback that will make your jaw drop.
P.S., I didn’t end up needing the bag, and I’m quite proud of that. But I’m still squirming days later, just thinking about it.