A ter­ri­ble beauty is born

Buck­ets of blood are spilled and ugly rashes spread across guilty bod­ies – but this is no mere gorefest, writes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

Garance Mar­il­lier in Raw

RAW Di­rected by Ju­lia Du­cour­nau. Star­ring Garance Mar­il­lier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Naït Oufella, Lau­rent Lu­cas, Joana Preiss. 18 cert, lim­ited re­lease, 98 min It’s been a while since we’ve had a horror film that caused au­di­ences to be hos­pi­talised with acute dis­gust. Just such a head­line-grab­bing event oc­curred when Ju­lia Du­cour­nau’s Raw screened at the Toronto Film Fes­ti­val.

“An am­bu­lance had to be called to the scene as the film be­came too much for a cou­ple pa­trons,” a mar­ket­ing wonk said. They hadn’t seen that sort of re­ac­tion since Lars Von Trier’s An­tichrist.

I don’t imag­ine too many ex­pe­ri­enced horror en­thu­si­asts will find vomit seep­ing through cupped fin­gers. But the Franco-Bel­gian picture is cer­tainly lay­ered with un­pleas- antness. A young woman sev­ers her own fin­ger and blames it on the dog. Buck­ets of blood are spilled. Ugly rashes spread across guilty bod­ies. The film has some­thing of Claire De­nis’s Trou­ble Ev­ery Day about it – the same striv­ing for hor­ri­ble beauty – but Raw is more co­her­ent, more propul­sive and, cru­cially, more at home to ar­te­rial hu­mour. The picture jus­ti­fies the fem­i­nist analy­ses it will in­evitably gen­er­ate. It also of­fers much dis­gust­ing fun.

We be­gin with a gen­tle omen of what is to come. Jus­tine (Garance Mar­il­lier), a com­mit­ted veg­e­tar­ian, is din­ing at a bland mo­tor­way café with her fam­ily. The party is uni­formly re­volted when she dis­cov­ers a stray lump of sausage in her mashed potato. It is some mea­sure of Du­cour­nau’s ca­pac­ity to make us iden­tify that the scene feels al­most as un­set­tling as the much greater hor­rors to come. The hunk is, af­ter all, ground-up flesh mixed in with less eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able filler. We’re sur­rounded by sub­li­mated death.

Jus­tine is on her way to the same vet­eri­nary col­lege that her par­ents at­tended. Her older sis­ter Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is al­ready there and has been in­ducted into a fra­ter­nity that makes US equiv­a­lents seem like sewing cir­cles. In the open­ing week, Jus­tine en­dures a haz­ing rit­ual that in­volves, among other vis­ceral hor­rors, the con­sump­tion of a raw rab­bit’s kid­ney. She re­luc­tantly gulps it down and, shortly af­ter­wards, de­vel­ops a skin com­plaint and a yearn­ing for raw meat. An­i­mals will do. Peo­ple are bet­ter.

Raw makes an ar­gu­ment about the ug­li­ness of the car­niv­o­rous urge. No other in­ter­pre­ta­tion is pos­si­ble of a film that presents that de­sire as a Cro­nen­ber­gian disease. Yet Du­cour­nau man­ages to skew her uni­verse in such a way that the moral per­ver­sion seems scarcely less ap­palling than the ev­ery­day weird­ness around.

It was a stroke of ge­nius to set the film in a vet­eri­nar­ian school. Horses are se­dated. Liv­ing cows are ex­am­ined in sober ex­am­i­na­tion halls. Stu­dents push their arms deep into ori­fices that no civil­ian would con­tem­plate with­out a gun at their heads. Jus­tine never seems sig­nif­i­cantly barmier than any of the sup­pos­edly nor­mal stu­dents.

Mar­il­lier gives an im­pres­sively des­per­ate per­for­mance. We sense her fight­ing to get off a train that is hurtling in­ex­orably to­wards obliv­ion. Rumpf is cool as a mildly elder sis­ter who, in this com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment, may as well be from a dif­fer­ent generation.

What re­ally sets the film apart, how­ever, is the ap­palling power of its dis­gust­ing images. Fran­cis Ba­con would have got on all right with the drip­ping flesh. Han­ni­bal Lecter would, how­ever, have been dis­gusted at the in­el­e­gant prepa­ra­tion of the co­mestibles. Make of that what you will.

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