French writer and director Julia Ducournau wowed audiences at Cannes Film Festival last year with her first feature film Raw, a coming-of-age story spliced with an exploration of cannibalism. The plot centres around young vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier) who enrols at veterinary college, where she befriends party-boy roommate Adrien (Rabah Naït Oufella) and reunites with her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) who already studies there. After being thrust into the anarchic student lifestyle, she is forced to eat rabbit kidneys as part of a brutal initiation process and reluctantly buckles to peer pressure. This, however, causes a horrible allergic reaction and triggers a craving for meat and an unquenchable thirst for blood.
From the opening pre-credits scene, the arthouse tone and visually striking style is established, cleverly teasing and pre-empting what will follow. The film adopts an unconventional approach to tackling the horror genre and because of this, the graphic gore feels out-of-context and even more unsettling. This makes for increasingly uncomfortable but essential viewing throughout and the excellent sound design expertly compliments the unnerving aesthetic. You might watch through your fingers with a cupped hand over your mouth, but you won’t want to look away as Justine’s horrifying affliction takes control of her.
The central performance of Marillier is key to the impact of the piece, as her innocent exterior juxtaposes with the deadly inner trauma that eats away at her, and leads her to eat away at everyone else. We are made to sympathise with her and fear her simultaneously and the material is handled impeccably by the young actress in what is also her feature debut. Ella Rumpf is also very impressive, bringing a fiercely brooding intensity to her role and injecting a dark streak of tongue-in-cheek humour into the sibling rivalry subplot that cuts through the narrative.
Raw marks a masterful directorial debut from a skilled filmmaker who presents a visceral feast for the eyes and ears that should be avoided at all costs by the sensitive and squeamish. It may be the most disgusting film I’ve seen at the cinema but the frequent shocking sequences are reined in by a sharply clever script that ensures that the craft of storytelling is at the forefront of the film’s vision. The controversial subject matter may have led many first-timers to bite off more than they can chew, but Julia Ducournau and Garance Marillier have an appetite for distinction, and their collaboration is bloody brilliant.
See the trailer: