This weeks Friday Night Fright pick is a film that is not only a feature debut, but also one that waves its Queer flag proudly – Raw. Julia Ducournau’s film caused a wave of anticipation as news of audience members fainting during preview screenings travelled the world. This notoriety was richly deserved as the film is wondrously gory and enchanting.
Justine (Garance Marillier) has been raised as a vegetarian all her life and strictly sticks to her meat-free diet. As she embarks on her first year at a prestigious veterinary college, where her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) also studies, she finds her morals tested. Part of the school’s intense hazing ritual sees Justine forced to eat a raw animal organ, but once ingested, Justine finds herself craving more flesh, and not just the animal kind…
On the surface Raw might sound like a film about a deranged cannibal, but it’s so much more. Justine is hungry for flesh, and the experience also awakens other desires within herself. A late bloomer, she suddenly finds herself on the brink of a sexual awakening amidst all the carnage. Much like Ginger Snaps, Raw utilises a horror movie trope perfectly as a metaphor for the transition from girl to womanhood. It also manages to sum up the anxiety of moving away from home, and the insane nature of fresher’s week. Thankfully ours was never this extreme.
From the opening moments, where we see a car crash after an unexpected figure appears on a quiet country road, the viewer is hooked. The pace is perfect and director Julia Ducournau manages to suck you in so intensely that, by the end credits, you’ve hit a trance-like state and it’ll take a while to shake it off.
Garance Marillier is phenomenal, holding the attention for the duration, no small feat when you consider that she’s in practically every frame. It’s a bold and brave performance from the young actor, there are so many heavy scenes that could have lost their impact, or become kitsch in the hands of a lesser talent. She genuinely is mesmerising, and her turn contributes to the aforementioned trance state. The dynamic between her and Rumpf is hauntingly realistic. It’s hard to believe that these two aren’t actually related. Again, their relationship is heavily reminiscent of that of Ginger Snaps’ Bridgette and Ginger.
When the film starting screening on the festival circuit it gained a lot of notoriety. It was one of those films during which people were fainting and vomiting. That type of headline alone is enough to bring the gore hounds flocking to cinemas in their droves. However, Raw does a lot more than just throw a load of the red stuff around. There are some pretty grisly moments, one involving waxing and fingers being the worst, but they are beautifully handled. The risk of these scenes becoming overly gratuitous is avoided, and by tackling them in such a mature way, the few gore scenes really do pack a punch. Viewer discretion is advised for those of a sensitive disposition.
The score is wild, loud and exuberantly youthful. It captures that fresher’s week hedonism fantastically. The cinematography is beautiful, the film feeling wonderfully art-house despite its gruesome subject matter. The editing is snappy, the direction subtle and well thought through; technically Raw is sheer perfection. Ferocious and flawless, Raw grips you from the get go and doesn’t spit you out until the bitter end. Simply incredible.
This review first appeared on THN. Raw is available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD now.