UNIVERSITY is considered a place where young people begin to ‘find themselves’. Just last week, a fresh batch of A-Level students received their exams results and will now be preparing for this next identity-shaping stage of their lives.
None of those students – at least I hope – will go into higher education and discover that they are raging, blood-thirsty cannibals. That is exactly what happens in French director Julia Ducournau’s stylistically delicious and devilishly entertaining horror film Raw (out on DVD now).
Justine (Garance Marillier) is an animal-loving vegetarian starting her first year at Veterinary school. Nervous and studious, she is greeted by a variety of student initiation rituals which include mattresses being thrown out of windows and a humiliating dress-code.
Justine, who had earlier winced at the sight of a stray meatball in her mashed potato, is also drenched in blood and reluctantly pressured into eating a raw rabbit liver – the latter triggering a horrible rash all over her body. Yet this bodily mutation is symptomatic of an even darker awakening going on inside her.
Ducournau lays on a banquet of imaginative visuals. We witness a pack of young students crawling like animals on all fours to a party – and Justine viscerally wriggling under her bedsheet as though she is in a sweaty, bloody cocoon.
But it is some of the party scenes that are the most eye-grabbing. In one early scene, Ducournau’s camera follows Justine – seemingly unbroken by cuts in a way that would make Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu proud – through a chaotic and crowded party. This engulfing and brilliantly choreographed scene ends on the image of a toy lamb hanging by a cable noose. Perhaps Justine is a lamb to the slaughter.
Later on, Ducournau’s camera pushes its way through a mass of out-of-control partying bodies. It eventually arrives at Justine who is now a transformed figure. Her body language is animalesque – almost predatorial – and she possesses a bull stare like Jack (Jack Nicholson) in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980).
This shift in Justine’s identity is also mirrored by Jim Williams’ score which goes from gentle and unobtrusive to sinister and Transylvanic.
Issues of identity and the body are at the heart of Raw – themes that Ducournau spoke about in detail at a Curzon Q&A back in April (read more here).
Raw’s most compelling element is the relationship between Justine and sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf). The two differ in both appearance and character, with Justine’s ‘golden girl’ image contrasting with Alexia’s punkish looks and hard-edge attitude.
Like most sisters, they enjoy a tumultuous relationship – bonding one minute and then taking chunks out of each other the next. In a later scene, Ducournau pays homage to Wim Wender’s Paris, Texas (1984) with a creepy shot that shows a reflection of Alexis’ face superimposed over Justine’s face. At war or not, the two are inextricably bonded by sisterhood.
The film’s most memorable scene, however, involves Justine and Alexis having an evening waxing session. It is a scene that takes you from comfort and laughter to gruesome, eye-covering disgust. This is the type of genre-blending – mixing humour, horror and drama – that makes Raw such a fun watch, especially with friends.
With all this on show in Raw, it is hard not to get excited about the talent of Ducournau, Marillier and Rumpf.
I suggest you dig your teeth into Raw as soon as possible. It is entertaining, outrageous and – whether you care or not – nutritious cinema.
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Raw – 4/5
Justine – Garance Marillier
Alexia – Ella Rumpf
Adrien – Rabah Nait Oufella