Julia Ducournau’s Raw is a deliciously fucked endurance test, one that rattles your insides and challenges you without mercy. A coming-of-age story that depicts and/or explores, among other things, cannibalism, puberty, liberation, sexual exploration, adulthood, sisterhood, terminal illness, lust, alcoholism, bulimia, bullying and possibly bestiality, it’s meant to provoke you, disturb you, intrigue you and deeply haunt you. To suggest it succeeds would only snap at the surface. The best compliment I can give Ducouranu’s astonishing directorial debut is that it wholeheartedly deserves its title.
Timid vegetarian Justine (an incredible Garance Marillier), a bright freshman studying to be a veterinarian at a nearby French university, lives under the shadow of her older sister, the rebellious upperclassman Alexia (Ella Rumpf). A virgin with little in the way of social experiences, Justine’s general awkwardness, crippled by the demanding expectations of her hard-partying peers, makes her an easy target and a bit of a weirdo. Alexia tries to help her adjust to the new environment, but her own interests usually get in the way. Justine remains open-minded, if sometimes shy, to all the hazing expectations of her older peers, but when an orientation event requires her to eat raw meat, she’s hesitant. At Alexia’s insistence, Justine does, indeed, eat the animal, but it soon awakens something terrible inside her. First developing a rash, then a ravenous appetite for meat, particularly of the human variety, Justine is soon a man eater. But at what cost? It surely affects her relationship with Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella), her sexy gay BFF whom Justine can’t help but acquire a desire to taste — in more ways than one.
Brave, fearless and never-less-than-unflinching, Ducournau’s exhilarating, daring and artistic, yet shockingly naturalistic, near-masterpiece might earn comparisons to other films like Teeth, The Neon Demon, Starry Eyes, Wetlands, Thirteen, Antichrist and even The Shining, yet it remains a product of its own twisted, irresponsibly brilliant design. Its unnerving design —matched only by its impressively committed and often wonderful performances — build an astonishing, unwavering look at a young woman’s journey through unspeakable evil and everyday dangers, all painted terrifically morbid with shocking displays of gallows comedy and marvelous realism — especially with its impeccable practical effects, which never look less-than-authentic in their gruesomely brutal design. It’s as bold as it is utterly delectable. It’s a film that practically demands multiple different interpretations and various readings, many of which are creditable.
It’s very French, very ferocious and, of course, very, very fucked. But that’s the beauty of Raw. Because, as Alexis notes at one point, “beauty is pain.” Both our pain and their vicious open wounds. It’s a testament to Ducournau’s developed-beyond-her-years talent that so many scenes are so damn uncomfortable, yet completely, entirely engrossing. There’s not a second that doesn’t disturb or feel deprived, in some way or another. And yet, Ducournau guides you with an astounding amount of assurance and dedication, thanks in no small part to Marillier’s marvelously enrapturing performance. This role isn’t one many can take lightly, but the intensity and complexity of Justine’s descent are given weight, depth and believability through Marillier’s brilliant turn. She’s doubtless, unless she needs to be filled with guilt, and she’s resilient, unless she needs to feel heartbreak. It’s a layered, dynamic performance that won’t be forgotten.
But there’s not much here that will be forgotten. Ducournau’s filmmaking introduction is a startling, horrifying, unswerving, staunchly debauched, deliciously devious treat. Its craftsmanship is dementedly delirious and, of course, tragically, captivatingly beautiful. Raw is a bloody intense, deceptively unquenchable nightmare that’s tender to the bone.