Deliciously entertaining, artfully executed cannibal horror from Julia Ducournau
Being a teenager certainly can bite and Raw's no-frills depiction of growing up a girl transforms this dog-eat-dog experience into full-blown cannibalism. Julia Ducournau's blackly comic debut is a barnstorming body horror that delights in pushing the audience's buttons as it takes to extremes the grisly business of being a modern woman.
'Beauty is pain,' Alexia (Ella Rumpf) tells her younger sister Justine (captivating newcomer Garance Marillier) as she brandishes a waxing strip with wicked intent. She's ahead of her child genius sibling at veterinarian school and has blazed a terrible trail for the newbie. Although the girls are from a staunchly vegetarian family, the meat-eating opportunities available to them at college prove difficult to resist.
Described witheringly by a lecturer as a 'wonder child', sullen swot Justine is lobbed into the freshers' week equivalent of the Thunderdome: subjected to relentless terrifying initiations, she's advised to, 'Find a quiet corner. Wait it out.' Justine manages to befriend her handsome gay roommate Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella) but when she samples raw meat as part of a grim hazing ritual it unlocks a dangerous desire.
This French-Belgian co-production takes inspiration from Ginger Snaps, Teeth, Let the Right One In and An American Werewolf in London yet feels bang up to date. Justine experiences the cannibalistic urge like a sexual awakening as Ducournau subverts classic coming-of-age tropes, foregrounds a fractious and fascinating sibling relationship and flecks her film with gleeful transgressions. Raw has a pop at college rape culture: students are pulled from their beds in their underwear, forced to crawl on their hands and knees, shoved into rooms with strangers to make out. And it cleverly juxtaposes accepted female behaviour with extraordinary acts of violence – the bikini waxing scene designed to provoke as much of a reaction as the subsequent devouring of human flesh. The things we do to ourselves, indeed.
Vividly shot by Ruben Impens (who did such a striking job on The Broken Circle Breakdown), this brilliantly twisted effort draws out the surrealness of the animal-strewn environs – which mix concrete and cows – and dunks us in the deep end alongside its breathless naïf of a protagonist. It apes the exhilaration and turmoil of youth, while the initially dainty score from Jim Williams becomes a throbbing organ when Justine's blood-lust kicks in. In the end, Raw turns out to be very well done as Ducournau serves up a tasty blend of gore, metaphor and mischief.
Selected release from Fri 7 Apr.