I’m “biast” (con): not much of a horror fan
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Teen Justine (newcomer Garance Marillier) gets a barbaric welcome as a new student at her veterinary college: the horrifying hazing she is subjected to starts off like a riot, moves on to something akin to being taken hostage, and ends with being dunked in animal blood. The initiation also requires that she consume a raw rabbit kidney, which is extra disgusting to her because she’s a vegetarian. She’s not being picked on especially: all the freshmen go through this. And it sets a savage stage for what comes next: a taste for flesh is awakened in Justine that grows until it compels her to do some terrible things. This first feature from French writer-director Julia Ducournau won a slew of awards at festivals last year, and they are well deserved: Raw is cinema as a punch in the gut, not for the squeamish or the faint of heart but hugely rewarding in how it mines fiercely visceral emotional reactions out of insistent, shocking visuals that dare us not to look away. Via shy, virginal Justine’s first confrontations with the grownup world of sex and self-determination, Ducournau turns the the awful, violent things girls do to their own bodies — waxing, purging — outward on others, and casts female desire as ravenously predatory in a way that few films have ever had the audacity to do; the way Justine leers at her friend Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella: Girlhood), as he runs around innocently shirtless playing soccer, turns an already rare female gaze spectacularly greedy. (The fact that he is gay renders him even more heedless of her hunger, and hence her hunger even more dangerous to him.) Bold and brutal, Raw takes up the gauntlet of the female coming-of-age story and smacks us across the face with its outrageous originality.