Julia Ducournau’s Raw, an interesting take on cannibalism horror, might be less about horror and more about the angst of youth compounded by uncontrollable, devastating impulses.
Although disgusting visuals are aplenty, Raw is actually both witty and soulful. Justine, a sensitive young college student played by Garance Marillier, struggles to remain a compassionate vegetarian while innate savage inclinations threaten. At first innocent, strictly avoiding all meat under the watchful eye of her parents and even becoming ill after hearing about animal abuse, she gradually transforms, losing control of her desires, longing for flesh and sex. The metaphors obviously abound here: indulging in repressed carnivorous behaviour can represent sexual awakening. Cannibalism, meat eating, violence and sex are all symbols of giving in to instinct. Homicidal hunger could also be substituted with drug addiction, anorexia or self-mutilation. Yes, there is plenty of carnage, but the point of the film is the emotions of the characters.
The opening scene is mysterious: Aa figure walks along a deserted country road, jumps in front of a passing car, causes an apparently fatal accident and approaches the crashed vehicle. The horrific meaning of this event is revealed as the narrative progresses. During her first days at veterinary college, Justine is thrown into a series of violent hazing exercises – one in which she is soaked in animal blood, another in which she is forced to eat raw rabbit kidneys, an initiation serving as her turning point toward ever increasing violence and sexual adventure. Her taste for the carnivorous awakens and she can no longer control it. Throughout the movie vampirism and cannibalism seem interchangeable, as Justine and her incurably sanguinary and dangerous sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) both have an appetite for copious quantities of blood and flesh.
With a tension and a level of suspense that is consistently maintained, the scenes are energetic – sometimes violently so – with calculated and precise cinematography. During Justine’s hazing and subsequent party, intense close-ups with unsteady camera shots and low angles disturb and impart a sensation of passion, aggression, chaos and claustrophobia. Unusual shots such as one of Justine under her bed sheets are womb-like, as if she is about to be born.
Well-written and directed with excellent acting, especially Marillier’s performance, Raw is a poignant arthouse work. Although gory, it is unique and surprising.
Raw does not have a UK release date yet.
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