2017. Directed by Julia Ducournau.
Julia Ducournau’s debut feature film masquerades as a cannibalistic horror thriller while exploring the psychological extremes of its protagonist’s sexual awakening in the dog eat dog erotic playground of a medical college. Substance abuse and the curiosities of casual sex are blended with the sins of the parent to present a bloody parable about the dark side of nascent pubescent desires.
Justine is a vegetarian who is in her first week of veterinarian school. After being forced to consume raw meat, she develops a taste for human flesh that sends her on a macabre odyssey of self-discovery. Ducournau’s script is a brilliant convergence of conflicting themes that never overshadow one another. From the first chilling scene, the viewer is drawn into Justine’s lucid daydream where the wonders of collegiate freedom are soiled by tides of animal blood summarily thrown onto the freshman by their social superiors. What begins as a hazing ritual organically transforms into a culture of comradery and primal excess, punctuated by an animalistic sojourn made by the freshman as they crawl towards the neon Heaven of a vodka soaked soiree. Justine’s transition to reluctant predator unfolds through a loosely structured morality play in which she defines her rivalry with her sultry older sister and her budding romance with her roommate.
Sexuality, identity, and control are all on display, but Ducournau sidesteps the simple implications of these concepts through intense compositions and ominous colors. Ruben Impens’ cinematography floods the night life of the campus with electric reds to highlight both the passion and disquiet of youthful hedonism, while using rustic blues and greens to simulate the adult world beyond the campus. There’s a remarkable shot of Justine washing body paint off in the shower that acts as a bridge between the apparent danger and the undeniable power of self-acceptance. Garance Marillier’s performance as Justine harnesses the potent elements at play to communicate a formidable aura of blossoming femininity, symbolized by an uncomfortable dance sequence involving a mirror. Marillier is supported by Elle Rumpf as her confident sister and their chemistry is the heart of Raw, pinballing between violent rivalry and intimate confidants.
Ambiance is an essential ingredient. It begins with Impens capturing Justine under the covers, itching and convulsing in a suffocating denial of tranquility and then briskly moves to Justine wandering lonely red corridors while Jim Williams’ creepy score oozes through the campus’s institutional aesthetic. Laurie Colson’s art direction supports by presenting the school as an otherworldly place, caught between the liberty of self-absorption and the cold realities of adulthood. There are moments of comedy sprinkled throughout, but even these are false sanctuaries, reminding the viewer that the beast must ultimately be fed. This concept is first explored in the opening, and then later Ducornau “shows the monster”, explaining the nefarious details of a hunting ritual and its wanton casualness is a horror lover’s ambrosia.
In theaters now in limited release, and coming soon to digital on demand, Raw is a truly unique entry into the thriller genre. It would be easy to categorize Raw as a traditional horror film; however this is a disservice to Ducournau’s work. In the veins of Lynch, Ducournau elects to focus on the terrors of everyday life; the undeniable fears associated with the plight of a young girl becoming a woman. This dovetails with a telegraphed commentary on the fool’s errand of parents who desperately try to keep their children from repeating their mistakes, which is delivered via a deliciously patronizing final line, cementing the film’s satire of the female’s plight in polite society
Highly. Highly Recommend.