A coming-of-age tale like you’ve never seen, Julia Ducournau’s “Raw” left me intrigued, mildly nauseated and extremely curious about what passes for recreation at French veterinary schools.
Justine (Garance Marillier), a wide-eyed young woman still in her teens, is dropped off at vet college by her parents in the film’s opening scenes; we quickly learn that her rebellious older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is also a student there, and that the shy, earnest Justine, a strict vegetarian who adores animals, would very much like to fit in.
Soon, in a hazing ritual (which also includes a “Carrie”-like bloodbath for new students), Justine is pressured to eat a raw rabbit kidney – and there the transformation begins, of Justine and of this movie. Cue the blotchy, peeling rashes; the vomiting of hair; and the sudden hunger for flesh that has Justine gnawing raw chicken from her roommate’s refrigerator – and, soon, far worse. She’s no pale Goth vampire, but a full-on cannibal, and Ducournau’s camera shies away from none of it.
So yes, approach with caution (I couldn’t help looking away, a lot). But “Raw,” for the strong of stomach, holds some fascination: Ducournau’s wry humor that peeks through at odd moments (particularly in a bathroom scene, with Justine getting advice from a bulimic); Marillier’s girl-next-door wistfulness at jarring odds with how she’s munching a finger like it’s a chicken leg; the way bright red lipstick, smeared around a mouth, suggests something else.
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“Raw,” based on Ducournau’s award-winning short film, is the filmmaker’s debut; I await, with eagerness and not a little trepidation, her next work.
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella
Director: Julia Ducournau
Length: 98 minutes
Rating: R (aberrant behavior, bloody and grisly images, strong sexuality, nudity, language and drug use/partying)