Raw (Grave)

Watched: 1 September

The feature-length debut for writer and director Julia Ducournau, as well as the feature-length acting debut for lead Garance Marillier (who had previously worked with Ducournau on short films), Raw is a visceral, highly-stylised European horror that doffs its cap regularly to Italian giallo, both in terms of the bloody, over-the-top, exploitation-style violence it contains and the lurid colours employed occasionally throughout, which are cleverly incorporated into the plot and the production design so that the film also manages to retain a certain sense of realism, at least in terms of the setting; events that transpire, and the way that they are depicted at times, are way more out there.

The story takes place largely within a veterinary college. Marillier’s character Justine, a vegetarian, is one of many newly-arrived first-year students, and it becomes apparent that studying here is a family tradition; her parents both attended the school, and her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is already in her second or third year, providing very little support as Justine and other new arrivals are forced into a series of hazing rituals (in fact, at one point the new students are forced to eat rabbit kidney, much to Justine’s disgust and Alexia’s apparent enjoyment).

What develops out of this cruelty is a campus-based horror that is often quite stomach-churning, though not at all scary (indeed, there were reports upon its cinema release earlier this year of people throwing up in the aisles, though whenver I hear about this kind of thing it always seems a little unlikely… unless of course the barfers in question have consumed large quantities of foie gras before popping over to their local arthouse cinema). Raw is visually very striking in terms of the way that it’s shot and edited and the presentation of the gorier moments, while the various dreamy, slow-mo, techno-heavy party sequences are pretty enthralling, too; I suppose some discerning critics may disagree that all of that is a good thing… admittedly at times it almost feels as if an off-the-shelf template for cool, modern, western European cinema has been employed in terms of the visual style. Still, as debut features go, I found it impressive: it’s pleasingly gruesome, rather funny at times, and well acted, particularly by Marillier, who convincingly does the heavy lifting as her character’s reactions to events and own actions gradually change over time. (****)

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