While introducing the U.S. Premiere of Julia Ducournau’s “Raw,” Fantastic Fest programmer Evrim Ersoy declared it “the most audacious genre film of 2016.” After viewing, it’s hard to argue with the man.
This French coming-of-age story focuses on 16-year-old Justine (Garance Marillier), a bright young woman heading off to veterinary school. It’s a real family affair – her parents met and fell in love at the same school and Justine’s older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is already an upperclassman there.
Now, I don’t know who the hell would send their kids to this school based on the annual hazing rituals that all incoming students face. It’s literally a hell week with the “Rookies” against the “Elders.” Beds and belongings are thrown out of dorm room windows; kids are stripped and covered in paint; everybody is forced to eat raw animal organs and wash it down with a shot. Let’s just say that I would have already been looking at transferring schools after the first night.
It’s the last event that sets the tone for our movie. Justine is a vegetarian and after being forced to eat a rabbit’s kidney, her body starts to revolt. First, she breaks out in a rash over the majority of her body and continually scratches all over until she bleeds. Things get a little darker than that rather quickly when she starts craving meat. The school nurse tells her she just has food poisoning and needs to rest, but it’s not long before we see something the doctor couldn’t have predicted. But Justine wants more than meat, she starts to develop a taste for human flesh.
When the movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month, there was quite a buzz about the film after a few audience members reportedly passed out at the first Midnight screening. This had me preparing for the worst. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is fairly gory and has a handful of really disgusting moments, but there’s a lot more going on and there were only two moments that really had me flinching in my seat.
The underlying story of “Raw” is one of sibling rivalry and sexual awakening. Justine develops a crush on her ridiculously handsome gay roommate Adrian (Rabah Nait Oufella). After she walks in on him and another boy getting intimate in their dorm room, she’s quickly pushed out into the hallway but can’t stop herself from listening. Her own inexperience and curiosity keep getting the better of her. She may not exactly be innocent, but Justine is surrounded by people who are far more advanced than she is when it comes to drugs, alcohol, and sex. This newly triggered primal instinct and thirst for blood takes over and wrecks havoc over the course of the first week of school.
Pretty much everything about this movie clicked for me, from the candy-colored visuals to the incredible soundtrack featuring tracks from Blood Red Shoes, The Long Blondes, and The Dø. “Raw” is an unforgettable debut feature and a real highlight of this year’s festival lineup.
“Raw” screens again at Fantastic Fest on Tuesday at 5 p.m. Focus World will be releasing the film in select theaters and on VOD in 2017.