I have been anticipating this film for a while now. You may be familiar with the existence of this film, you may have heard the stories that came from the last year’s Toronto International Film Festival where the film was screened. Apparently Paramedics were called twice after some viewers passed out due to the graphic content of the film, the trailer landed with this buzz attached to it. Like with most horror films, I avoided the trailer, I avoided the synopsis. All I knew was it featured scenes of cannibalism. I was thrilled to get invited to an early screening of this film so without further ado, let’s get into it.
The film follows Justine (Garance Marillier) a vegetarian who after spending her first year at a veterinary school, begins to devop an appetite for human flesh.
I am purposely keeping that plot summary very brief, one thing I’ll state straight away is this is a French-Belgian production. So don’t expect an English language film, all the dialogue is in French accompanied by English subtitles. I wouldn’t usually make a point of saying that but seeing as two people in my screening walked out, as soon as they heard the French language being spoken, I thought I’d make that clear.
Anyway this film is both written and directed by Julia Ducournau and due to the very intricate way this film was directed, you can easily see that she carried this idea from its initial inception all the way to the finished product. This is a very unique story she has written which is comepletely unpredictable. From the first shot to the very last the film kept me enthralled. I just could not predict which direction the film was going to go in and when I thought it might go one way, it surprised me and went in the opposite direction. In terms of the direction and cinematography, every shot was immaculate and well framed. She also manages to create a handful of sequences that are very memorable due to the striking imagery displayed on screen. I can’t go into detail about these scenes due to spoilers, but one of the scenes I’m speaking about is a sex scene that is so unnervingly suspenseful as it comical. That leads me to say that this film doesn’t take itself too seriously all of the time ,which is a great thing that gives it a real comedic sensibility through out. This works really well in the films favour due to the bizarre and oddball tone it possess. There’s scenes that are certainly not for the squeamish and will make many people feel uncomfortable, when people often feel that way they will laugh at what they’re seeing to ease themselves back into comfort. There were a lot of those awkward laughs throughout my screening.
Garance Marillier’s performance is a captivating one. She added a real sense of innocence to Justine, which made her developing cannibalsitc nature all the more shocking. The film at it’s core is a coming of age story and you feel like you are witnessing Justine grow as the film progresses. She felt very natural in the role and never once took the material to an over the top level that didn’t match what the film was going for. Ella Rumpf has a significant role in this film as Alexia, Justine’s sister and without spoiling anything, I felt her performance was very strong too. After watching the film I witneessed an interview where the director spoke about brotherhood in Greek myth and other things, and how the siblings relationships are typically portrayed in those stories. There’s definitely a parallel between that and how she decides to depict sisterhood in this film. I found that very interesting and it works as well as it does due to Marillier and Rumpf’s performances.
The musical score helped elevate this pristine looking art house horror into an entirely different beast. The harsh organs of the main theme give it a real dark undertone, it sounds like haunted church music. The rest of the score suitably enhanced each scene as it should. In what I would describe as one of the key scenes in the film in terms of Justine’s growth, we see her stood in front of a mirror loooing at herself as she is listening to music. That scene was excellent and the song chosen to feature in that scene is so twisted that it really makes that scene what it is.
The only thing the film failed to do in my eyes was delve a little deeper into the subject of cannibalism. The film doesn’t even try to offer up an explanation for why people take this dark turn and begin to love human flesh. I understand the film leaves it for the audience to take what they want from the experience, and come to their own conclusion about what the film symbolises. That I don’t have an issue with, I just wish the film explored the subject a little deeper than it does. That being said by the end of the film you do gain a better understanding of why this is happening to Justine in the context of the film.
Overall, Raw is a stylishly erotic coming of age tale, that showcases the growth of a female in an entirely unique and dark way. The cinematography and direction is immaculate and the performances, especially Garance Marillier’s will leave a lasting impression upon you.
(4 Stars out of 5)
Raw; Starring Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Naït, Laurent Lucas and Joana Preiss.
Directed by Julia Ducournau. Now showing in US Cinemas. Opens in UK Cinemas April 7th.