Raw Review

A veterinary school freshman (Garance Marillier) develops a taste for raw flesh in the feature debut of French filmmaker Julia Ducournau. Part horror film, part coming-of-age drama, “Raw” is a visceral gut-punch of a film both in story and visuals, to the point that it is not recommended for the squeamish. That said, it’s gore isn’t distasteful – no pun intended.

Marillier’s Justine is a vegetarian, which makes her cravings all the more perplexing, but given the nature of the story – a young woman going away to school and experiencing hazing, peer pressure and radically different societal expectations than she’s used to – the metaphor Ducournau has constructed feels unsettlingly but strikingly apt.

Regardless of whether French veterinary schools have such bizarre, carnal traditions, the narrative bullet points and the emotions they’re meant to elicit make “Raw” accessible to any audience. At one point, we were all a prude and naïve as Justine, and the way she wrestles with it as her physical and social needs change feels so relatable, even if we can’t possibly imagine a scenario in which we would be driven to consume human flesh.

What really elevates the material is Ducournau’s unapologetic yet mindful approach. She’s aiming to unnerve her audience, but in instance when most filmmakers would escalate and double down on the genre elements as the film nears its conclusion, Ducournau never overindulges. She’s masterfully deliberate in how much gore to show and how long to hold onto an image or a sequence to achieve the desired effect. So although “Raw” comes across as a stomach-churner, the underlying mechanics are largely psychological.

In a similar vein, Ducournau also defies conventions and familiar tropes in ways rarely seen from new directors. “Raw” doesn’t tightly conceal information as though it were a mystery/thriller about what’s really happening to Justine (though admittedly the ending is meant to provide a payoff, in a way). She will make certain details visible to attentive viewers that will allow them to get a step ahead. Rather than ruin anything, however, these clues invite us into the story. Nothing ever becomes so predictable that it deflates the film’s unusual energy pattern.

“Raw” certainly rides its coming-of-age metaphor; as it goes, so does the film’s effectiveness, but the inspired filmmaking that realizes this vision puts Ducournau on the map. Foreign filmmakers with horror tendencies tend to make the transition to Hollywood, or at least American-produced films, more easily than most. That said, her indifference for the clichés that dominate Western horror might keep her on the independent track for awhile, but with hopefully bigger names that draw more attention to her fine work.


4/5 Stars

Written and directed by Julia Ducournau
Starring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf