Jake Bridgman ’19/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
“An animal that has tasted human flesh isn’t safe.” An off-handed remark from a father, yet to understand the visceral consequences of it is the preeminent thesis of french filmmaker Julia Ducournau’s feature debut Raw. During festival runs, the film received a viral reaction as a grisly shocker, which unfortunately disregards and diminishes the layered symbolism, arresting imagery, and cocksure directing of this feverish tale about a teenaged girl’s corporeal awakening.
The film clings to the pure and apprehensive Justine, who’s just begun the orientation week at a prestigious veterinary school. A strict vegetarian, whose regiment is ingrained by her mother, Justine is forced to disembowel her herbivorous purity and eat a raw rabbit kidney during a hazing ritual by none other than her grunge avant-garde older sister Alexia. The School itself is isolated, colorless institution permeated with the sexual ferocity and depraved drug-scene of the students trapped there.
After her first bite of meat, Justine begins her ascension up the food chain which parallels with her the destruction of her sexual purity and audacity. The line between sex and dinner becomes less apparent as Justine arcs from a chin-up, sweet-eyed fawn into a feral savage. Actress Garance Marillier’s corporeal awareness of her character’s metamorphosis allows her to transform into a creature so instinctually disturbing and predatory. It’s erotic by the most repulsive of standards.
Visualizing the hellscape is cinematographer Ruben Impens. Drenched in saturated carnal colors and utilizing unique cross cutting and symbolic editing, Raw juxtaposes the students’ vulnerable bodies with those of animals both alive and dead; through the camera, flesh is just flesh.
The film’s most exciting elements are the writing and directing. Ducournau is a young director in her thirties with only 3 shorts and zero features under her belt, but nonetheless an authorial, confidently imaginative voice emerges clearly and revelatory.
Ducournau is astutely aware of never diving into slavish homage. It’s difficult to make comparisons to other horror movies and cannibal thrillers because the storytelling focuses on characters’ mental states and emotions. The film never terrifies for the sake of horror; instead horror arises from the delicately crafted hysteria manifesting within the character. For Justine, she must decide whether to succumb to the sexualized cannibalistic appetite that engulfs her after the first taste, or to follow an established moral code in the face of unholy temptation.
While the horror genre is befitting to its content, Raw transcends the tropes of horror with, confident and anomalous directing, tempered pacing and a slow-burn terror that disturbs unlike any jump-scare blockbuster. it’s a film rendered to a perfect nightmare that gets under your skin in a subtle yet profoundly affecting way.
Overall Grade: A
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