Movie Review: Raw - body horror at its finest
98 mins ★★★★
Like Interview with a Vampire's rat biting and Pulp Fiction's hypodermic needle, this is a film that left some audience members reeling.
The story goes that when French film-maker Julie Ducornau's debut screened at the Gothenburg Film Festival earlier this year, the audience required an unscheduled intermission due to its effect on the consciousness and stomach-contents of some of them (similar scenes had played out last September in Toronto).
It's true that Raw, as its censorship rating suggests, is not for the faint-hearted or squeamish – but that doesn't mean it isn't one of the most visceral, vital and visually inventive films you're likely to see this year.
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It's the tale of first year veterinary college student Justine (Garance Marrillier). Although destined to be a star of her class, she finds herself just as intimidated as any of her fellow "rookies", when subjected to a week of "hazing" by the senior students – including her big sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf).
Her nerves already shredded by buckets of animal blood and her bed being thrown out of the window, Justine appears to have met her Waterloo when confronted with a raw rabbit kidney she is expected to devour.
For most people that might be a problem, but for the avowed vegetarian, it's cause for an emotional meltdown. That's when her older sibling steps in – not with a kind word or free pass – but with an obvious goad: "Don't start the year by chickening out."
Reluctantly Justine downs the offal, but even she isn't prepared for the effect that it has on her body.
Think last year's Nerve crossed with the best of David Cronenberg (The Fly, Dead Ringers) and Dario Argento (Suspiria, Phenomena) you'll get some idea of the nail-baiting, sweat-inducing terrors that Raw holds.
Ducornau doesn't set out to be deliberately provocative or prurient, it's just that she knows how to marry some seriously disturbing imagery to an atmospheric score and craft a growing sense of dread.
Yes, there is something a little Tales from the Crypt or Twilight Zone-esque about the plot, but there's enough of a hook to modern day mores and concerns to make it feel fresh, and Marillier really sells it. Echoing Sissy Spacek in Carrie, she delivers a mesmerising performance as a young woman whose struggles to fit in are overcome by powerful forces from within herself.
A movie best seen on an empty stomach, Raw is a harrowing, haunting and highly memorably cinematic experience.