A cannibal movie that will make you relish every sticky, illicit bite
Director: Julia Ducournau. Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Naït Oufella. 18 cert, 99 mins.
Raw, the debut feature film of French director Julia Ducournau, is both a cannibal horror movie and a coming-of-age movie, one in which the sexual awakening of its young protagonist Justine (Garance Marillier) sits alongside the birth of a more destructive, if similarly allconsuming kind of hunger.
The film opens as the teenager, brought up in a vegetarian family, heads off to college for the first time. Her destination — a veterinary school, alma mater of both her parents and the current home of her older sister Alexa (Ella Rumpf ), a senior student — is a Frankenstein’s laboratory of horrors: think floating, detached organs and drugged farm animals, hoisted aloft while in restless slumber.
Justine’s career path may have been motivated by a desire to help animals: early on, she says, with evangelical seriousness, that she sees no difference between “a raped woman” and a “raped monkey”. But the practical callousness of her fellow students, and the way in which animal flesh is casually reduced to meat, belies the humanity of their chosen profession. You can’t become a vet, the film suggests, without getting your hands bloody and, as Justine discovers during a grim hazing ritual, the rest of you too.
Our main character’s heady, queasy introduction to student life is portrayed in evocative, oddly nostalgic detail: she endures bullying from older students, who subject the firstyear students to a prolonged military-style initiation, and tries to “lose herself ” at hedonistic parties.
Crucially, though, the film never suggests that Justine’s flesh-eating antics are a direct result of her burgeoning sexuality. Nor does it present her cannibalism as a clumsy metaphor for her other “carnal” desires. Instead, its power — its shuddering, relentless intensity — lies in the way it makes you vicariously feel both her dual hungers, and surreptitiously relish every sticky, illicit bite.
When she dances in front of a mirror, newly awake to her own desirability and her own sense of sexual desire, it’s impossible not to identify, while simultaneously cringing at the teenage awkwardness of the whole thing. And as, in the wake of that cruel initiation, she starts to experience a newfound hunger for uncooked meat, there’s an intoxicating energy to her culinary explorations, coupled with a darkly funny tension. There have been reports of Raw inducing fainting in early audiences, but, truth be told, you’ ll more likely spend less time looking away in revulsion than you will nervously giggling, as your stomach knots with suspense.
Bodies, in this film, are never far away: there’s always just a little too much skin on screen. But, alongside the slow eroticism, Ducournau also shows a keen sense of just how warped our relationships with our own physical selves have become.
Tellingly, Justine’s first foray into cannibalism comes after a graphic bikini-waxing scene that’ ll make you wince. Biting into another human being is a big no no, yet this sort of eye-watering beauty ritual is ostensibly “normal”. Is it any wonder, the film cleverly implies, that Justine — and we, her captive audience — becomes a little confused?