Review: Julia Ducournau’s Raw

The coming of age film gets a blood-soaked overhaul from writer-director Julia Ducournau in French horror, Raw (Grave). The project debuted at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival to rave reviews and marks Ducournau’s first cinematic feature.

After arriving at veterinarian college, lifelong vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier), is subject to a hazing routine that involves the consumption of raw meat. This awakens a carnivorous desire within the young girl which starts to dominate her life.

Enthusiasts of the horror genre are unlikely to be swayed by the rumours of medical teams being on standby outside screenings – although it’s a lovely bit of hype building. They would be correct not to place too much faith in these suggestions, with the gore in Raw occasionally shocking – but none more so than the likes of recent less-hyped films like Green Room or Martyrs. Ducournau has not set out to make a violent, explicit film to appease blood-craving genre gorehounds, instead these aesthetics support her stronger overarching narrative, continually feeling justified and relevant.

At its beating core, Raw is a film about relationships and coming of age – using Justine’s uncontrollable cannibalistic behaviour to parallel emerging feelings of lust and desire amidst concerns of fitting in that plague many young adults. We see Justine form relationships with gay roommate Adrien (Rabah Naït Oufella), a supportive figure as Justine’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic – and a more tempestuous relationship with her elder sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf). Without going into too much detail, a core crux of Raw is this relationship of sisterhood, whilst it also opens the door to the film’s most gruesome moment of gore – involving a rusted pair of old sisters and a waxing kit.

Whilst the narrative elements are undoubtedly strong, these are somewhat inconsistently supported by the film’s aesthetics. The gore is effectively gruesome, yet the dreamlike visuals of Raw are sometimes too timidly explored – cutaways to animals in the mortuary and alcohol-fuelled raves provide uneasy, transporting aesthetics – but Ducournau does not wholeheartedly commit to this style. 

In terms of its graphic-explicitness and itching claustrophobia, Raw is unflinching – particularly as Justine is overwhelmed and unable to suppress her cannibalistic desires. 

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