It’s always special to uncover a new horror film which turns the genre on its head. In recent years I’ve been delighted by the nostalgic tones of It Follows and the crafty creeps of The Babadook and have come to expect just one or two of these treats a year. What a delight it is then to have discovered two in the last fortnight. Following on from my recent enjoyment of Jordan Peele’s Get Out, this week I found myself tormented and tantalised by Julia Ducournau’s female-focused cannibal college nightmare, Raw. Both films are vastly different and equally inventive but it is Raw that proves to be the most challenging and confrontational viewing, for all the right reasons. Justine is following in her sister’s footsteps, enrolling in veterinary school with a strong school record behind her and high aspirations for herself. Ducournau has set her story in an isolating and spiteful setting where cruel and unsettling initiations lead to Justine being forced to eat raw meat for the first time; an experience made more tragic by the fact she is a vegetarian. Her first taste of flesh has a devastating affect on her physically and little sympathy is shown by her sister. This violent reaction, initially diagnosed as food poisoning, proves to be the start of a much more lethal illness as Justine quickly finds herself craving meat. What begins as a guilty desire for greasy canteen burgers quickly descends into an intense longing for raw flesh in more sinister forms. Raw provides a repulsive, relentless but rich serving of gore, all complemented by it’s toxic score, enticing editing and captivating cinematography.
Raw is intensely graphic and unsettling, undoubtedly not for the fainthearted but also likely to surprise the most hard-core horror fans with just how relentlessly savage both the plot and the imagery is. Justine’s transformation is subtle but swift and captured in a bold debut feature film performance from Garance Mariller. There are wonderful brief shots of the surreal and the intense. Clinical, stationary images slot in between the narrative, reminiscent of Kubrick’s The Shining. With its focus on the depraved capabilities of the youth, there are correlations to be made with Clockwork Orange and there are several sequences that blatantly nod to Kubrick’s British masterpiece. Raw is beautifully handled and crafted – a visceral experience and an artistic sensory-invasion which manages to creep under your skin and into the pit of your stomach where it will sit heavily for some time. The intelligent treatment of the visual horror makes it all the more insidious for the audience. Raw is a splendid tonic, proving that modern horror can be drenched in blood whilst remaining smart and original. It’s a poisonous remedy for all the carbon-copy franchises that now plague a genre which should entice and excite. Raw is fierce feminist film-making that flows eloquently from one heinous situation to another – courageous and confrontational. Despite being made to feel consistently uneasy by the film’s visuals, its aesthetic, music and editing meant I always felt in safe hands.
Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.