We saw the trailer for Raw before the screening Kong and it captivated and intrigued us. It has not a single line of dialogue; just a slew of powerful and visually arresting images which hypnotised us. We both proclaimed in unison “this looks good. Let’s watch this”.
A young vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier) undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, and an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her. Meanwhile, her elder sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) studying in the same school has other plans for her young sis.
We have all seen the umpteen coming-of-age or sexual awakening story, but when is the last time you saw a becoming-a-cannibal story? This is one incredibly muscular piece of filmmaking, marrying visual poetry with slow-burn horror into one potent and delectable dish. Debut writer-director knows exactly what she wanted to do and did it, and the resultant film is a different breed of horror with no cheap jump scares and with the camera never flinching from all body and animal horror.
During a screening at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, some viewers received emergency medical services after allegedly fainting from the film’s graphic scenes. IMHO, this notoriety does it a huge disservice. Perhaps the viewers went into the cinema with an empty stomach or have a weak disposition for copious blood and body horror because Raw is never tacky or cheesy in its depiction of its terror. Ducournau knows the medium well and employs a plethora of aesthetics to drive the terror home. The cinematography is fluid and complicit in the sinister going-ons; it somehow manages to glide seamlessly to places we don’t want to go (under the bed covers, in a toilet where blue and yellow collide) and see stuff that we don’t want to see (rashes on young flesh). I am never ever going to forget a scene in which a poor horse get tranquillised, a mouth restraint slapped on it, gets tied up and turned upside down in a harness. It was spine-chilling and my mind kept whispering prayers that it will be fine. The takes are long and languid, but purposeful and place us in the thick of things. It felt like I was given full access to an accident site and I was led to study in closed-up the twisted metal and the mangled bodies. I couldn’t look away even though I wanted to. The shots are superbly lighted, disconcerting and symbolically rich. Ogle in amazement as the camera follows Justine in the first night of hazing to a make-shift discotheque that resembles hell itself.
IMHO the genius of this lean and mean film is that it manages to make us feel for Justine. We feel the revolting disgust churning inside her as she, a lifelong virginal vegetarian, is forced to swallow a raw offal from a rabbit. The angry crimnson rash that flares up all over her is a manifestation of her disgust, but soon it awakens her cannibalistic core. In Garance Marillier, Ducournau has found the perfect Justine. Her transformation arc is magnificent and her multi-layered performance is career-defining. I still cannot forget the scene of her jiving sexily in front of the mirror, becoming aware of herself sexually. She exudes an animalistic energy so thick and heavy, she fused the scenes together in absolute dread. Her eventual deflowering scene, coupled with the birth of her cannibalistic leanings, is presented in total nerve-wrecking literalness.
Raw isn’t for everybody. I wouldn’t even say a horror fan will like it. It has an arthouse feel to it that may turn some people away. But it is a bold film, sublimely realised, erotic, feral, primal and it will play on your senses long after it is over.
4 / 5