Director Julia Ducournaus first feature length film, Raw, is a coming of age tale like no other that contains dark, horror undertones. The French/Belgian produced film follows the rites of passage of 16 year old, lifelong vegetarian Justine, as she moves to a veterinarian school to start college. Once there she finds herself having to endure a gruelling initiation while finding herself developing new urges that she is unable to understand or control.
The film has already gained a reputation at when screened at various film festivals in Toronto and Gothenburg where it was reported that several viewers vomited and even received medical treatment for fainting during these screenings as posted by The Hollywood Repoter also posted that vomit bags were offered to those watching the film at a recent screening in Los Angeles.
Raw opens with wide shot of a road with a mysterious figure jumping out into the in front of a moving car and causing it to crash. It then becomes clear that this was part of a twisted plan for the mysterious person to catch their food. From this scene we gain a sense of discomfort where anything can happen and that things are not what they first appear to be.
The film then focuses on naive but academically intelligent Justine (played by Garance Marillier) and her parents on a road trip to take Justine to her new college. After stopping to eat at a service station, we see Justine feeling sick after almost accidentally eating an item of meat. Her over-protective mother becomes infuriated by this and makes a complaint.
Justine (Garance Marillier)
Once at the college, we then follow Justine along with the other new students as they are put through a series of ritual initiations by the older students. These include being covered in animal blood throughout the day and being pressured into washing down a piece of rabbit kidney with a shot. From this we see Justine’s body react in the form or a painful rash. It is at this point that Justine begins a downward spiral as she descends into a morbid and cannibalistic awakening. Justine’s older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf), is a senior at the college and at first watches Justine’s transformation before showing her how to take care of her newly developed urge.
Justine waits in line for the next ritual.
When Alexia tries to embrace Justine’s newly developed status by giving Justine a makeover, we first get an unnerving feeling that something is about to go terribly wrong, especially when their pet dog is also present in this room. Alexia first plucks the hairs from Justine’s armpits and then attempts to perform a Brazilian . Justine flinches causing Alexia accidently cut her own middle finger off which brings out a craving in Justine. Justine attempts to save and preserve the finger but then gives in first curiously tasting and then eating the finger. This becomes the turning point for Justine and also for the viewer as it is the first where we see Justine’s cannibal behaviour taking control. Although Alexia is aware of what happened, she lies to their parents telling them that the dog ate the finger which causes the dog to be put down. From this, it is clear that Alexia and Justine have a powerful yet dangerous bond. It becomes clear that Alexia has already been through what Justine is now going through. Justine then becomes awakened, confident and tries to have a better understanding of her cravings as they clash with her human morals about what is right and wrong.
Ducournau has made visual attack on the senses with this film by capturing the essential dilemmas faced in student life including fitting in, overcoming difficult teachers, peer pressure, and relationships. The visuals are hazy, reflecting Justine’s mood as she struggles to fit in with the rest of the student despite knowing that she is different.
At the screening Dcuournau said that what interests her in bodies is that they raise a question of identity in a very visual way, in a very relatable way and in a very universal way. Throughout the film we see Justine becoming more cofident as she becomes aware of her body and the urges it starts to desire. One of the films standout scenes is when we see a her becoming a vixen standing in front of a mirror seductively mimicking an explicit French rap song “Plus putes que toutes les putes” by Orties.
Raw is an impressive, multi-layered film that unnerves and takes the viewer on a journey from following a young girl’s journey to discovering who she really is. Full of twists and this film is more psychological than a brutal graphic horror film. The intense scenes are well executed as the tension builds. Director Julia Dcournau strategically uses her cast and props to get the most out of each scene and keep the viewer on the edge of their seat until the climax. Raw is more than just a title, it is a cinematic experience.