Julia Ducournau’s Raw arrives in Dallas this week preceded by a wave of social media marketing aimed at the gore hound. After reports of people needing medical care when the film screened at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, the latest buzz is that the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles will be handing out custom-made “barf bags” for the film.
William Castle-like theatrics aside, Ducournau’s film deserves to be seen not only for its incisive view of identity, but because its a terrifying film about teenage angst and the unrelenting feelings of confusion and displacement that comes along with it.
As the pinnacle of that confusion, young Justine (Garance Marillier) arrives at her tenure for veterinary school already vulnerable. Left in the parking lot by her strong-willed parents and stood up by her older sister (Ella Rumpf), who also attends the school, Justine is left to fend for herself.
To worsen matters, her first night is rudely (and quite violently) interrupted by a series of hazing events that include being dragged out in the night virtually naked, made to crawl through a dark underground basement and then introduced to the rest of the school in a drug-addled and booze-infused rave. I wonder why kids are so screwed up during their initial years at college these days?
The hazing continues. Buckets of (fake?) blood are dropped on their heads from upperclassman and they’re forced to wear their stained lab coats around school. Even Justine’s teachers shun her. Apparently a sort of ‘wunderkind’ known to all, one of her professors talks down to her when he notices one mistake made on the paper she briskly turns in. All of this may be reasonably dealt with if Justine didn’t notice her body — and particularly her appetite — changing in peculiar and startling ways.
Everything about Raw works on a deeper level. As Justine, relative newcomer Marallier subtly exposes the confusion and mental torment going on inside her. She’s a virgin, and even though her roommate Adrian (Rabah Nait Oufella) is a self-confessed homosexual, an attraction grows between them. Unable to deal with her life externally or internally, Justine gives into the weakness that’s been developing inside her and Raw becomes a deadly serious corporeal reaction to the world around her.
As her debut feature, writer-director Ducournau elicits strong performances and captures the mood and feeling of the film in both tone and style through the people collaborating with her. Cinematographer Ruben Impens manages to create swooning nocturnal images one moment and then burrow in for that fly-on-the-wall style the next. Sporting one of the best scores of the year so far, composer Jim Williams (whose work with Ben Wheatley on a number of his efforts is also outstanding) supports the squeamish images with a pulsating and low-fi crescendo.
Purposefully omitting many of the identifying descriptions that would spoil Raw, I almost wish the film could be seen as a potent metaphor for its spot-on delineation of awkward adolescence. Alas, the film itself does tread its grotesque path without any allusion. Raw is about a nasty figment of the human experience, but its handled in such a dynamic way that it almost breaks your heart. Yes, it’s a film that will attract the gore hounds. But if one can stomach that and peer through the blood and clenched teeth, they’ll see a pretty damn good examination of what it means to be young, vulnerable and just trying to fit in.
Raw opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, March 24 at the Dallas Angelika and then begins a run at the Alamo Drafthouse the following week.