Director Julia Ducournau
Writer Julia Ducournau
Lead Garance Marillier
Box Office $3.33m
This week in my film review I’m doing the exact opposite of Scooby Doo & WWE: Curse of the Speed Demon. I’m reviewing Raw. The 2016 French-Belgian ‘horror drama’ film, not the weekly American wrestling show.
The film had its premiere at Cannes 2016, where it won the FIPRESCI prize. It is under the direction of Julia Ducournau, her first feature film after short film Junior (2011) and television film Mange (2012). In both of which she worked with the Raw lead Garance Marillier.
Ducournau had won the Sutherland Trophy at the London Film Festival, an award previously won by Yasujiro Ozu, Jean-Luc Godard & Lynne Ramsay. Mark Kermode listed Raw as his favourite film of 2017, Rolling Stone awarded it a 4-star perfect rating whilst Rotten Tomatoes gave it a score of 91%. I was expecting big things.
So, Raw, plot thus: we join a vegetarian family, Justine with her mother and father in a car journey to a veterinary school where we meet her sister, Alex. Alex is an ‘elder’ whilst Justine is a ‘rookie’ during ‘rush week’ – some sort of hardcore cinematic version of Freshers’?
As part of her rush week, she eats a raw rabbit’s kidney, as does Alex to prove a point to her sister. Justine’s seen as a square, a reputation amongst students and professors as a star student, to the point where one of her professors tells her she’s too good for the school and she’s scaring away other potential veterinary doctors. She’s played off as an innocent virgin, so expect some character development in that department.
She wakes one night with sores all over her body and gets it checked out immediately – the downhill slope begins here.
It takes 46 minutes for the cannibalism to begin in a cannibal horror film. I don’t have issue with the long wait, it’s not the sort of film that needs wall-to-wall gore like a series as Saw or Hostel so relies on. The 46-minute mark is structurally sound, as it happens at almost the exact middle mark.
As someone who is so anal about structure in his own screenwriting works (future Aaron Bore-kin over here), it is structured in a way that I would write a film. It’s split into two acts on the surface but upon closer inspection it’s really four-acts with a pivotal middle scene. The middle scene is designed to be a rod right through the film, marrying the acts with the central theme and character development.
A Clockwork Blood Orange
Act one is a newbie forced into her rush week at a French veterinary school, followed by the second act of her ailment being uncovered. Acts three and four follow a downward spiral into cannibalism.
One umbrage I take with the film is its labelling: it’s not a horror film in my eyes but perhaps the dark tone of its later acts pigeon hole it into the horror genre. It is a film not for the squeamish – not for me though, ‘cos I’m hard. I even ate a jacket potato during a cannibal scene, so come at me.
Is it a satire on vegetarianism? An allegory for how detrimental video games are for your behaviour? I don’t care whichever, or neither, it’s got a perfect blend of character development. Even the lesser characters, Adrien, for example, are all three-dimensional. In your big blockbuster you might pop down to the multiplex to see — strewn with superheroes and the like — you might see the big hitters as three-dimensional but those on the fringes are all drawn on paper.
There is a fantastic central performance from Garance Marillier. Her innocence of the first two acts is played just as well as her cannibalistic second half.
There’s three scenes that made me wince in the film. I’ll begin with the first, as it is set up perfectly at the start. The opening scene is one that is seemingly unconnected, a body falls out into a road, forcing a car to swerve into a tree. That’s it.
Of course, this is paid off in act four, there’s a little tease midway through the film of it as we get to discover our characters. The paying off of this opening scene includes a very graphic piece of cannibalism, probably the most lurid in the film, one that left me drooping baked beans out of my mouth in disgust.
The other two includes an extended hairball extraction scene from Marillier. The sound design for that scene alone was wince-inducing. Adding to that is the pivotal scene in the middle. Right before the revelation that is about to blow the film wide open: there is some light snacking on raw chicken. I don’t know why but it crawled right underneath my skin.
Me on Sunday after the Accrington sesh
Retrospectively, you can enjoy the subtly of the film right from the off. Justine wakes up to her roommate wielding a ski pole. Nothing special until the final act. The ending itself is superb in both of its revealing parts.
I’d suggest that even if you’re one of those irritating creatures that don’t have the capabilities to watch subtitled words on a screen, you should go out of your way to watch this excellent film. It’s not as disgusting and gory as you might expect from a cannibal film. Cannibal Holocaust it is not, it is more nuanced and less trigger-happy with the animal slaughter despite being set in a veterinary school.
The chance was there but Ducournau rejected it, thankfully.