Empire (Australasia) - - Contents - WORDS SIMON CROOK PHO­TOG­RA­PHY DAVID NEW­TON

How do you turn a veg­e­tar­ian into a can­ni­bal? Hyp­no­tise her into think­ing she’s made of broc­coli! Or, do like in this film.


N THE EARLY hours of Tues­day 13 Septem­ber 2016, two am­bu­lances parked up at Ger­rard Street East. There was a med­i­cal emer­gency at Toronto’s Ry­er­son The­atre. In­side the 1,237-seater cin­ema, packed to ca­pac­ity, can­ni­bal­hor­ror Raw was pre­mier­ing in the Mid­night Mad­ness slot, the Toronto Film Fes­ti­val’s self­styled “twi­light zone for moviebuffs”. Ac­cord­ing to news re­ports, “mul­ti­ple au­di­ence mem­bers” had ei­ther fainted, vom­ited or fallen ill. By the time so­cial me­dia latched onto it, it sounded less like a screen­ing, more like an out­break of mass hys­te­ria.

Some have howled pub­lic­ity stunt, some­thing did hap­pen that night. Fan­dango’s Ali­cia Malone was at the screen­ing. “Mid­way through the movie, there was some move­ment around me, a com­mo­tion, and mul­ti­ple peo­ple go­ing in and out of the cin­ema,” she tells Empire. “I saw one guy slumped on the floor by the exit, clutch­ing a bot­tle of water. When I left af­ter the movie, there were am­bu­lances sta­tioned out­side. I hon­estly don’t think it was a PR stunt.”

It’s safe to say 13 Septem­ber was the night Raw’s no­to­ri­ety was sealed. The French hor­ror’s rep­u­ta­tion now pre­cedes it, ra­di­at­ing a dare-yousee-it video-nasty vibe. True, Raw has its mo­ments of hard-gore hor­ror, but the hype is a dis­trac­tion. When things calm down and the fainters get up, the fo­cus should fi­nally turn to the film’s ex­tra­or­di­nary dual de­buts: writer-di­rec­tor Julia Du­cour­nau and break­out star Garance Mar­il­lier.

“I’m not of­fended — I’m just sorry for the peo­ple who fainted,” says Du­cour­nau when we meet in Lon­don, a month af­ter the Toronto faint-a-thon. Tall, charis­matic and an easy talker, the 33-year-old film­maker com­mands quite a pres­ence. She puts the black­outs down to a con­flu­ence of in­gre­di­ents: a mid­night screen­ing, empty stom­achs, too much booze and, of course, Raw’s own graphic power. The more re­served Mar­il­lier is con­sid­er­ably more blunt. “I thought it was ridicu­lous,” she says, rolling her eyes.

Set in the bleak, blank spa­ces of a vet­eri­nary college, Du­cour­nau’s com­ing-of-age hor­ror

fol­lows Mar­il­lier’s Jus­tine in her fresh­man year. Urged on by her older sis­ter (new­comer Ella Rumpf), Jus­tine is sub­jected to a vi­cious haz­ing rit­ual that sees her fed a raw rab­bit’s liver. The haz­ing trig­gers a meta­mor­pho­sis: Jus­tine slowly mu­tates from cal­low veg­e­tar­ian to flesh-crav­ing beast with a vi­cious car­nal ap­petite. All the great hor­rors are de­fined by mood and mo­ments, and Raw rages with un­for­get­table scenes. It seems to have beamed out of nowhere, like­wise its di­rec­tor. Where the hell did she come from?

JULIA DU­COUR­NAU WAS born in Paris on 18 Novem­ber 1983, the sec­ond daugh­ter of a gy­nae­col­o­gist and a der­ma­tol­o­gist. It’s hard not to think of Brian De Palma when she re­veals this: De Palma’s dad was an or­thopaedic sur­geon, and lit­tle Brian would of­ten sit in on op­er­a­tions, watch­ing a bone trans­plant or a skin graft. “It must have had an in­flu­ence on the way I see things,” she says. “I’m not re­motely squea­mish, and I’m ob­sessed with the hu­man body.”

Du­cour­nau’s other ob­ses­sion, hor­ror movies, de­fined her child­hood. She’d con­sume them like other kids did car­toons. She was six when she first saw The Texas Chain Saw Mas­sacre. “Then I got into Poe and the whole gothic thing.” Raised by movie-buff par­ents with clas­si­cal tastes and no genre prej­u­dice, Du­cour­nau be­gan dab­bling with scripts when she was a teen. When we ask about her firstever screen­play, Du­cour­nau starts laugh­ing.

And laugh­ing. And doesn’t stop. It takes over a minute for her to re­cover. “No-one’s asked me this be­fore,” she fi­nally says, face burn­ing with em­bar­rass­ment. “It was about a schiz­o­phrenic ma­gi­cian.” About a what?

“A schiz­o­phrenic ma­gi­cian. I hon­estly have no idea why. I haven’t thought about it in years. I don’t know any­thing about magic. It was stupidly bad. Thank God no­body ever read it.”

Af­ter study­ing lit­er­a­ture at Paris-sor­bonne Univer­sity, Du­cour­nau spent four years in the script de­part­ment of La Fémis, France’s state film school with leg­endary alumni as long as your arm — Louis Malle, Alain Res­nais, Claire De­nis, François Ozon, Theo An­gelopou­los… She grad­u­ated in 2008, free­lanced for French Elle mag­a­zine, and dab­bled in script doc­tor­ing, in­clud­ing con­sult­ing on crit­i­cally lauded Afghanistan war drama The Wakhan Front (2015). In 2011 she shot Ju­nior. Du­cour­nau’s wickedly funny 22-minute short fol­lows a tomboy’s mu­ta­tion into girl­hood, with a gutsy su­per­nat­u­ral twist — af­ter con­tract­ing an ex­otic stom­ach bug, she starts shed­ding her skin like a snake. Or, in Du­cour­nau’s words, “like an an­droid rep­tile”.

Ju­nior is hugely sig­nif­i­cant in terms of Raw’s back­story. It’s the first of three times she’s worked with Garance Mar­il­lier. The ac­tress was 13 when they met at the au­di­tions for Ju­nior’s lead role. Mar­il­lier thought Du­cour­nau was the cast­ing as­sis­tant. “When Garance came in, she was skinny, tiny, with braces, and com­pletely mute,” re­mem­bers Du­cour­nau. “I thought, God, not an­other mummy’s girl. We started an im­prov, with me bait­ing her into an ar­gu­ment, and she gets up and starts yelling, full-force. I was like, ‘The shrimp has wo­ken up!’ I ac­tu­ally got scared of her. Can you be­lieve that?

Scared of a 13-year-old!”

To Du­cour­nau’s shock, Ju­nior took 2011’s Petit Rail d’or, the Cannes short-film prize.

She was im­me­di­ately hired by Canal Plus to make a TV movie, co-di­rected with ac­tor Vir­gile Bramly. The blackly comic Mange is a de­mented tale of body-sham­ing and re­venge, fol­low­ing a suc­cess­ful lawyer and re­cov­er­ing bu­limic who meets the woman that hazed her as a teenager. She pledges to ruin her life. This time, Mar­il­lier was cast as the an­tag­o­nist’s step-daugh­ter. “Mange is the tonal op­po­site of Raw,” says Du­cour­nau. “We only had 18 days to film, didn’t have time for sub­tle light­ing, so it looks high con­trast, all burn­ing reds. I watched it again just last week and it’s full-on. I hope they re-re­lease it some day.”

As you may have gath­ered, Du­cour­nau har­bours a dis­tinct set of fix­a­tions. “Yeah, I tackle the same themes, over and over,” she ad­mits. “Meta­mor­pho­sis, the quest for iden­tity, and body im­age. It’s an end­less pit I can look into for­ever — and I gazed deeply into it with Raw.”

RAW WAS BORN out of a con­ver­sa­tion with a pro­ducer about cin­e­matic taboos. What was the worst thing a char­ac­ter could do? And how would you keep the au­di­ence in the room? When can­ni­bal­ism came up, a light bulb dinged over Du­cour­nau’s head. “It sounded like a chal­lenge — could you make a viewer love a can­ni­bal? In­stead of star­ing at them from the out­side, like a circus freak, I wanted to place the au­di­ence in the shoes of a mon­ster, re­verse the mould, and re­veal a hu­man.”

Du­cour­nau started writ­ing Raw way back in 2011, while she was shoot­ing Ju­nior. “Julia kept telling me, ‘It won’t be you, you’re too young,’” laughs Mar­il­lier. “But the film took so long to go into pro­duc­tion, time passed, I got older, and she even­tu­ally cast me.” The rea­son for the five-year de­lay, says Du­cour­nau, is down to her coun­try’s at­ti­tude to the genre. “When you make a hor­ror in France, you’re com­pletely alone. In Eng­land, you have Ben Wheat­ley, for in­stance, who blends gen­res. Raw is a weird cross­over of com­edy-hor­ror-drama: that sort of film is still a rar­ity in French cin­ema. It took for­ever to get fi­nanced.”

On 3 Novem­ber 2015, Raw started its 37day shoot near Seraing, Liège in Bel­gium — the Dar­denne brothers’ cin­e­matic stomp­ing ground (“Weirdly, they were shoot­ing The Un­known

Girl just one kilo­me­tre away from us”). To pre­pare for the role of Jus­tine, Mar­il­lier fo­cused her re­search not on haz­ing or vet schools, but her own phys­i­cal­ity. “I stud­ied dance, and tapped into the an­i­mal in­side. The main in­spi­ra­tion for the char­ac­ter wasn’t a real-life can­ni­bal, like Jef­frey Dah­mer — it was [drug lord] Pablo Es­co­bar.”

For Du­cour­nau, there was never a sense she’d bit­ten more off than she could chew, but her com­mit­ment to re­al­ism meant there were few short-cuts avail­able. Gal­lic FX ge­nius Olivier Alonso, in­fa­mous for his work on New French

Ex­trem­ity hor­ror In­side, hand-crafted Raw’s gore. In fact, aside from a pinch of dig­i­tal magic (a chewed leg, gnawed to the bone, had to be en­hanced with CGI), all of the ef­fects are prac­ti­cal. The scene in which Jus­tine hacks up a clump of hair was achieved by Mar­il­lier wrap­ping sil­i­con strands around her front teeth, gag­ging as she pulled them out strand by strand. An eye-wa­ter­ingly graphic bikini-wax­ing scene, mean­while, didn’t re­quire any ef­fects at all. As Du­cour­nau re­calls, “We went through a load of body-dou­bles be­cause we shot so many close-ups — I must say, they were in­cred­i­bly fuck­ing brave.” As for the se­quence in which Jus­tine nib­bles on a freshly ripped-off fin­ger (a ma­jor contributor to Raw’s faint­ing fits): how the hell did they do that? “Oh, that was made of raw chicken,” says Mar­il­lier, dead­pan as ever. You’ve got to be kid­ding… “Okay, I’m jok­ing. It was a fin­ger that Olivier made, en­tirely out of su­gar. It tasted quite nice.”

Mar­il­lier, it has to be said, is a trooper. She was com­pletely un­fazed by the gore, the show­ers of blood, and the sav­age sex scenes she was re­quired to shoot (so fe­ro­cious they had to be chore­ographed by a stunt­man). The scene that re­ally gave her the fear was a solo mir­ror dance (imag­ine a disco Travis Bickle) that sig­nals Jus­tine’s trans­for­ma­tion into a can­ni­bal. “I re­ally didn’t want to do it — sexy dancing isn’t my thing, es­pe­cially in front of 40 peo­ple,” Mar­il­lier re­mem­bers, wrin­kling her nose in mild dis­gust. “Julia and I had, er, a bit of an ar­gu­ment.” This, it turns out, was a com­mon thread dur­ing Raw’s shoot. The two share such a tight artis­tic and per­sonal bond, any cre­ative dif­fer­ences were re­solved through bouts of cathar­tic yelling. “There’s a 14-year age gap be­tween us,” says Mar­il­lier. “But we’re both strong char­ac­ters, and very alike. There’s a def­i­nite fu­sion but also clashes.” “Garance said we clashed?” asks Du­cour­nau. “We clashed a lot. We com­pletely trust each other but we’re both in­cred­i­bly tem­per­a­men­tal. If we’re both an­gry, we’re very an­gry. We scream for two min­utes, then ev­ery­thing’s cool.” Sounds like the sis­ter re­la­tion­ship in Raw. “Well, it’s not that ex­treme. I’m sup­posed to be older, wiser and calmer, but yeah, there were times when Garance felt like an an­noy­ing lit­tle sis­ter that I wanted to tease.”

PER­HAPS THE REAL taboo Raw tack­les isn’t can­ni­bal­ism at all — it’s Du­cour­nau’s ex­plicit and un­fil­tered cel­e­bra­tion of the fe­male form. While the film is wide open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion, it’s been em­braced by crit­ics as a fiercely orig­i­nal fem­i­nist hor­ror movie. Mar­il­lier is sus­pi­cious of the fem­i­nist tag (“You don’t say to a guy, ‘Wow, you’ve made a great mas­cu­line hor­ror movie,’ do you?”). Du­cour­nau, on the other hand, wel­comes it. “Raw does tackle fe­male taboo sub­jects: body-sham­ing, eat­ing dis­or­ders and, es­pe­cially, fe­male sex­u­al­ity,” she con­sid­ers. “Through Jus­tine, I wanted to show girls you can be young, a vir­gin, be de­flow­ered, and in­stead of be­ing ashamed, you can be fuck­ing proud of it.”

Which leads us to the ele­phant in the room. Women in hor­ror used to mean the fi­nal girl, the bikini vic­tim, the se­duc­tive scream-queen. For over a cen­tury, the genre has op­er­ated like an old boys’ net­work. Over the past few years, how­ever, a cho­rus of ex­cit­ing fe­male voices have been shout­ing down the idea that hor­ror should be a male re­serve. There’s Leigh Ja­niak’s Hon­ey­moon, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, Ana Lily Amir­pour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Karyn Kusama’s The In­vi­ta­tion… If it’s not quite a wave, it’s cer­tainly for­ward mo­men­tum. When we ask why there are so few fe­male direc­tors work­ing in hor­ror, Du­cour­nau lets rip. “As long as the di­rec­tor ra­tio isn’t 50/50, there will never be enough fe­male hor­ror direc­tors,” she says, arms mo­tion­ing. “The fact is that women, and so­ci­ety in gen­eral, have been brain­washed. Women have been taught to like love sto­ries and pink, and be ‘soft crea­tures’. Soft crea­tures? What the fuck is that about? I know a lot of women who are into gore, or cop movies, or what­ever. When you make a hor­ror movie, it’s an ex­pres­sion of vi­o­lence that you feel in­side. I re­ally do think it’s time we recog­nised women feel vi­o­lence and anger too.”

Un­likely as it sounds, Raw could be this year’s The Witch — ar­tis­ti­cally and com­mer­cially. Both films share core themes of sex­ual awak­en­ing and fam­ily de­ter­min­ism. Both are au­teur-driven art­house hor­rors that have con­verted fes­ti­val buzz into stu­dio deals. And both have seen its direc­tors swat­ting away Hol­ly­wood’s ad­vances. Af­ter The Witch bowed at Sun­dance, Robert Eg­gers was mobbed by agents, man­agers and in­dus­try suits. The same hap­pened to Du­cour­nau at the now-no­to­ri­ous Toronto screen­ing. The French di­rec­tor, whose meta­mor­pho­sis ob­ses­sions have pow­ered ev­ery­thing she’s writ­ten is, for now, re­sist­ing any kind of Hol­ly­wood trans­for­ma­tion. “I haven’t signed with any agents yet,” in­sists Du­cour­nau. “I’m just try­ing to keep a grasp on re­al­ity. All this at­ten­tion isn’t nor­mal for me.” Any­how, she adds, her fol­low-up is a se­rial-killer movie set in France, dubbed ‘Pro­ject Blue’. “It’ll share the same tone as Raw but it’s dark — re­ally — dark. We’ll see. I still haven’t fin­ished the script.”

And if writer’s block should hit? Well, there’s al­ways the schiz­o­phrenic ma­gi­cian to fall back on.


Above: Jus­tine (Garance Mar­il­lier, right) with her fel­low vet-school­ers. Here:

Jus­tine with sis­ter Alexia (Ella Rumpf).

Di­rec­tor Julia Du­cour­nau and Mar­il­lier at the 2016 Cannes Film Fes­ti­val.

Mar­il­lier gets her teeth into the role. Below:

Rabah Nait Oufella plays Jus­tine’s room­mate, Adrien. Bot­tom:

Alexia gets the point.

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