Director Julia Ducournau’s Raw gained a reputation on the Fall festival circuit, when it was presented to the queasy audiences of the Toronto Film Festival. Reports indicated Ducournau’s film prompted walk outs and fainting spells, which led to festival paramedics being called to the screenings.
That’s one way to build up anticipation for your movie. Ready to make its release in limited markets this week, movie-going audiences, particularly the midnight crowd, will finally know if all of the buzz was worth it.
Justine (Garance Marillier) is being dropped off at vet school, where her older sister (Ella Rumpf) already attends. Justine is very timid and introverted and a staunch vegetarian, which are all challenged on the first night of hazing. The upperclassmen put the new students through hell and relish in the fact that they are able to. One of the bizarre rituals forces the newcomers to eat a rabbit’s kidney, which Justine expectedly does hesitantly.
A strange urge is ignited within Justine after tasting meat for what might be the first time. She begins craving flesh and blood, without much explanation as to why, but the film follows her struggle to suppress or indulge on her cannibalistic tendencies. That’s right, Raw is a cannibal coming-of-age story.
Ducouranu isn’t interested in making an endlessly gory picture – be warned, there is still plenty of that – but offers a twisted spin on familiar themes. She is never subtle in her imagery and metaphors but when a teenage cannibal is at the lead of your picture, how can you be? Where Ducournau truly stumbles is injecting the movie with a forward momentum and giving us a reason to care about Justine’s journey. She languidly floats from scene to scene, making Raw more of a test in one’s patience than anything else.
Marillier is quite good, also making her feature debut here. Being 18 and heading off to college can be a confusing time alone but add cannibalism to that and things are just downright unbearable. She believably sifts through all of Justine’s colliding emotions and draws us into her journey much more than the screenplay truly allows.
Raw’s reputation might be a bit overblown but this is a movie that will find most of its success late at night with a group of friends. Ducournau does some interesting things here but not enough to warrant a recommendation.