Director: Julia Ducornau
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Naït Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss
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“Coming of age” is such a broad subject that any number of films might fit into its definition, but few have ever broached it with anywhere near as much gusto as Julia Ducornau’s Raw. After a run at 2016’s Cannes Film Festival, her directorial debut feature’s reputation may precede it, but we saw it cold, so we’ll go into this review giving as little away about the plot as we can, in the hope that you’ll see it… well, raw.
Justine (Garance Marillier) wants to be a vet. At the start of the film, she’s a shy vegetarian, mortified as much by a stray sausage in her meal as the scene her adoring parents cause (Laurent Lucas and Joana Preiss) in the cafe. But when they drop Justine off at their alma mater, a veterinary college, some intense hazing and the bad influence of her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), bring about a startling awakening in her.
Early on, the new arrivals’ dorms are raided by senior students, who throw their mattresses out of the window and frogmarch them to a pop-up freshman rave in their underwear. The following morning, they’re showered in blood for a class photo, and that’s all before things start getting really strange. From the very beginning, Ducornau comes out of the gate with a blinding vision of bizarre rituals in student life, but it’s always in service of the film’s grand seduction.
Marillier plays Justine with endearing naivety, led on by both her sister, who is suitably repelled by her relative innocence, and by her gay roommate, Adrien (Rabah Naït Oufella), for whom she harbours a mostly unrequited crush. The transformation of this virginal veggie over the course of this 99-minute fable is fascinating, and the viewer is equally subject to the pressures of the world into which Justine has been hurled.
From the alluring chaos of the various party scenes, to the itchy claustrophobia of Justine’s nightmares and sleep paralysis, Ducornau has put together a really striking film. Her main accomplices in this are Jim Williams, Ben Wheatley’s regular composer, whose score evolves alongside Justine, from gentle motifs to thunderous organs, and Ruben Impens, whose cinematography leaves you afraid to look away from any given image, even as the social and physical cringe factor ramps up to excruciating levels. That said, her script is terrific too, with a wickedly witty sense of humour than induces just as much cackling as cringing.
No matter how anarchic it appears, and no matter how much the pre-film publicity amped up the extremity of it all with the usual apocrypha about audience members passing out or having other physical reactions to the more grisly bits, the level of control over theme and character here isn’t accidental. To go as crazy as this does and still maintain that – right up to the last, unforgettable shot – proves Ducornau to be a formidable filmmaker.
Raw is the kind of film that feels entirely original, even if its influences and forebears are plain to see, because it has an energy that is entirely its own. With a stunning performance by Marillier and the precise way in which the writer/director needles the viewer for both laughs and gasps, this is an instantly iconic genre-bender.
Raw is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £9.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 14-day free trial.
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