Directed by Julia Ducournau (2016)
by Benjamin Leonard, Best Boy
You might remember when I wrote about the trailer for Raw back in January. I was pretty excited to see this movie and, for the most part, it met my expectations. I’ll give a brief synopsis that doesn’t spoil anything that wasn’t already in the trailers.
Raw is a Franco-Belgian coming-of-age/teen-horror film that pits Family vs. Popularity vs. Morality. It is the feature debut for director Julia Ducournau and stars Garance Marillier (also her feature debut) as Justine, an intelligent, shy, young, vegetarian woman entering a prestigious veterinary school. As it turns out, being a vegetarian and a veterinarian runs in the family. Both of her parents graduated from the same school and her sister Alexia, played by Ella Rumpf, is currently enrolled.
As the film opens, Justine’s parents are about to drop her off at her dorm for her first day on campus. Alexia is nowhere to be found. So, even though they are overly protective of Justine, the parents are forced to leave her there on her own. As night falls, the initiation begins. In the films most anxiety-inducing scene, masked students barge into the freshman dorms and start forcibly ordering them around. After a few minutes of terror and debasement, they lead the freshman into a dance party where they get them wasted. All the freshman, except for Justine, join the fun. Justine starts to come around and accept her environment when she finds Alexia. Finally, with her sister present, she feels more at ease and can have fun.
Days go by and the upperclassmen alternately abuse and inebriate the freshman at any time that they aren’t actually in class. During one of these periods of abuse, they make the freshmen eat raw pieces of some of their deceased animal patients. Still uncomfortable and unsure of her surroundings, Justine only submits to the group when Alexia denies her claim of vegetarianism and eats a piece first.
Justine wakes up with a violent rash, remniscent of Cabin Fever, and goes to see the nurse (a cameo by writer/director Marion Vernoux). After being treated, Justine starts having cravings for raw flesh. We are only about twenty minutes in and this is pretty much where the movie you were expecting to see gets going…
But it doesn’t ever stop. Sure we are treated to some creepy behavior with various meats and scenes of violence towards people, but the movie sinks ever deeper into Justine’s new-found depravity. As she conforms more with her fellow students, she becomes more animalistic. Eventually she’s confronted with the possibility that she’s gone farther than even this unruly group of students is willing to accept.
If you’ve got a strong stomach and are up for an over-the-top gross-out fest, this movie is for you. Not only does it scratch whatever exploitative itch you may have, it’s also quite well made. The script holds up fairly well in justifying why it is dragging you from scene to sickening scene. Cinematographer Ruben Impens makes Raw a good (if not uncomfortable) looking film at most times, with a few scenes that look great. And the acting from this rather inexperienced cast is quite good as well.
While I may not be rushing out to watch Raw over and over, it’s original and more disturbing than it is disgusting. Julia Ducournau has put together a good first entry and I look forward to seeing what else she has to offer.