by Hope Madden
Much has been made of barf bags and fainting during screenings of writer/director Julia Ducournau’s feature debut, Raw.
A festival favorite, the film has been plagued by rumors of aggressive audience nausea, let’s say, as well as ambulance calls. Several theaters recently have offered vomit bags with ticket purchases.
Don’t let that cloud your expectations. Raw is no Hostel, no Human Centipede.
What you’ll find instead of in-your-face viscera and nihilistic corporeal abuse is a thoughtful coming of age tale.
Justine (Garance Marillier, impressive) is off to join her older sister (Ella Rumpf) at veterinary school – the very same school where their parents met. Justine may be a bit sheltered, a bit prudish to settle in immediately, but surely with her sister’s help, she’ll be fine.
The film often felt to me like a cross between Trouble Every Day and Anatomy. The latter, a German film from 2000, follows a prudish med student dealing with carnage and peer pressure. In the former, France’s Claire Denis directs a troubling parable combining sexual desire and cannibalism.
Ducournau has her cagey way with the same themes that populate any coming-of-age story – pressure to conform, peer pressure generally, societal order and sexual hysteria. Here all take on a sly, macabre humor that’s both refreshing and unsettling.
A vegetarian from a meat-free family, Justine objects to the freshman hazing ritual of eating a piece of raw meat. But once she submits to peer pressure and tastes that taboo, her appetite is awakened and it will take more and more dangerous, self-destructive acts to indulge her blood lust.
In a very obvious way, Raw is a metaphor for what can and often does happen to a sheltered girl when she leaves home for college. But as Ducournau looks at those excesses committed on the cusp of adulthood, she creates opportunities to explore and comment on so many upsetting realities, and does so with absolute fidelity to her core metaphor.
She immediately joins the ranks of Jennifer Kent (Babadook) and Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) – all recent, first time horror filmmakers whose premier features predict boundless talent.