Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Director: Julia Ducournau
Written by: Julia Ducournau
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Joana Preiss, Laurent Lucas, Bouli Lanners
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 2/1/17
Opens: March 10, 2017
You are sitting in a restaurant with a woman who has been a lifelong vegetarian and you watch the 18-year-old swallow her first piece of steak. How would you expect her to react? Would she throw up? Develop a skin rash? Become so enamored of the meat that she would become enraged that she denied herself the pleasures of the flesh for nothing? All of this does happen, in fact, in the intriguing French horror film which won a prize at Cannes for a filmmaker’s debut. Julia Ducournau, a thirty-three year old Paris-born director and writer delivers thrills upon thrills to such an extent that if you did not know her gender you’d swear that “Raw” was directed by Quentin Tarantino or Eli Roth. And if you think that French films are talky to the point of audience excruciation, wait till you see this. Allegedly some people in the audience at The Toronto International Film Festival received emergency medical services after fainting from the film’s graphic scenes, though this could be a publicity stunt. On second thought, know. These people really passed out.
Ducournau introduces us to Justine (Garance Marillier—also her debut in a full length feature), an 18-year-old virgin in a small French town who is following the path of her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) by registering in a veterinary school. (There are four in France, though I do not believe you can skip college and start right in cutting up animals in the way shown here.) During the hazing ritual, in which the first-year students called rookies are pushed around, drenched in blood, forced to embrace to rub paint from each other’s body, Justine soon finds out that she is alone for the first time, her sister not at first interested in supporting her psychologically. The upper class students force her to eat rabbit kidney despite her protests that she is a vegetarian, her sister refuses to concede that she too has been a veggie, and she has been assigned to a dorm with a man, Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella).
Dermatitis and vomiting notwithstanding, she soon develops a love for raw liver, by which the time the audience is going to guess that what follows is that she will want to indulge in all sorts of flesh, probably including a screaming, rough-and-tumble sexual experience that could shatter the roof of a brick building. This is truly a girl who has awakened and gone well beyond her stolid, vegetarian parents (Laurent Lucas and Joana Preiss), the gentleman well-equipped for this kind of action having been seen in “Demons” and “Rabid Dogs.”
The pacing is quick, the action literally blood-curdling, the “Carrie”-type horror projected in the classy way that the French know how to do—long takes, telegraphic facial expressions. Justine sometimes looks up at her intended victims in the satanic way as did Malcolm MacDowell in “A Clockwork Orange.”
The movie includes devastating consequences for human beings (a finger is accidentally sliced off and eaten, cannibal-style) and for animals (a horse is hosted on straps by vet students for anesthesia and euthanasia). Even a hirsute professor (Jean-Louis Sbille—looking like mad scientist Dr. Emmett Brown in “Back to the Future”) projects demonic looks gleefully telling Justine that despite her brilliance, she made a mistake on her exam.
In the final minute at the table back home there’s a neat surprise as well. If you did not realize the connection between sexual congress and cannibalism, live and learn—and beware.
Unrated. 98 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – B+