Things are looking yummy for director Julia Ducournau. A few years after her short Junior won the Small Golden Rail at Cannes, her first feature, Raw, is getting even more festival love, grabbing awards not only at Cannes (Critics Week), but also at London (First Feature Competition) and Sitges (Best Feature and Directorial Debut), to mention but a few.
Justine (Garance Marillier) is starting her first year of vet school at the same university attended by her parents and (presently) by her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf). As primitive initiation rituals take place, inflicted by the senior students over the newbies, Justine – a strict vegetarian, same as the rest of her family – is forced to eat some raw rabbit liver. That simple act starts a rollercoaster in Justine’s personality – from shy, quiet and innocent A-student to a sexual being full of other forbidden desires inside her. Helped – and sometimes hindered – by her older sister, Justine starts learning the delicate art of being a predator between preys.
Cannibalism seems to be the latest horror trend to succeed vampires and zombies, but that doesn’t take value to what Raw is doing here. With a whiff of Ginger Snaps, Teeth and Carrie, Ducournau gives a Cronenberg-style spin to the old tale of a young girl becoming a woman, not forgetting to sprinkle it with some very dark humour. The way the gore is shot makes both the horror aficionado and the occasional watcher cringe, as it never looks away. And though most of the violence occurs off-screen, the brilliance of Ducournau’s mise-en-scène and the work of cinematographer Ruben Impens created a symbolic and creepy environment, both erotic and macabre, from the dead animals to the party sequences (both filmed to inspire the same kind of terror on the protagonist), where a story about a teenager cannibal does not feel off-place.
Marillier does an excellent job as the shy girl with a disturbing hunger, but Rumpf steals the show whenever she’s on screen. The soundtrack is as fitting and hummable as the one from A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (maybe it’s a horror female director thing?), and though the plot itself isn’t that surprising – the final “twist” can be seen from miles away, for young horror habitués – Raw is still a gory must see, in a year when horror seems to have distanced itself from repetitive formulas and is proving itself as a real intelligent chronicler of the times (*cough Get Out *cough). In the end, Raw is yet another horror film that shows how terrifying teenage girls can be… even those who don’t get a taste for human flesh.
Raw is in UK cinemas from 7th April 2017