The horror genre is one so frequently satirised, pastiched, and redone that any attempt or suggestion at originality within the genre has already immediately overcome its first, and greatest hurdle. Such is the case with French director Julia Ducournau’s exhilarating maiden feature film, Raw.
Raw is the fairly simple story of lifelong vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier) who, in a hazing ritual in her first week at veterinary college, discovers she has a passion for, nay, addiction to, raw meat. Of any kind. The experience of watching a film has usually been, in recent years, as a bystander, however close to the story taking place. Ducournau appears to be part of a rare breed of filmmaker who is more interested in implicating the viewer in the action. The sexual politics, violence, and young rebellion depicted in the film is so immediate and visceral we are forced to find our own place within the chaos, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.
Justine’s bloodlust is tied inseparably to her sexual coming of age, which is far from an original idea in vampire movies, however the fervour with which Ducournau approaches the sexuality of youth in their late teens is much more intimate and realistic than, say, how the subject is treated in Twilight (first comparison that came to mind, sorry). The sex scenes in raw come in and out of focus, fly off the sides of the frame, are clumsy, awkward, and passionate.
Raw is perhaps the film of the year in terms of having a title describe the viewing experience. The early hazing rituals and parties are jarring, uncomfortable experiences, not designed to tell us what is happening, but include us in on these acts; we, like Justine, feel shocked, out of place, frightened by this new world. As she evolves to fit in, along with her self discovery, we view it as almost a logical, sympathetic sequence of effects, thanks in no small part to Marillier’s exquisite performance, seamlessly and believably alternating between repressed and possessed.
Ducournau’s treatment of this particular self discovery is also a brilliantly messy testament to the classic coming of age tropes. Coming of age has never been uglier, more disgusting, more visceral and uncomfortable than it is in Raw, but importantly, it has never been more real. Justine doesn’t wake up one day and realise who she is, she’s tested, she resists, she questions herself, she cheats and manipulates, she doesn’t complete the film having resolved anything. More than a horror film this is a coming of age film, and a much more socially relevant one than more or less every teenage film ever made. There are no role models, nobody who has anything figured out, everyone surrounding her has their own messy problems which they are also failing to deal with. It’s almost comforting.
This film is confrontational, disgusting, and I couldn’t recommend it any more highly. A true highlight of 2017.