Separation anxiety, the march to adulthood, latent urges and genetic history are the main signpost for Julia Ducournau's first feature film. The feature is a commentary on the vegan lifestyle, college hazing and the real effects of peer pressure. Justine (Garance Marillier) is dropped off by her parents for her first year of Veterinarian School. She is a smart head of her class plus she's a legacy student. Both her patents attend the school and her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is in her second year in the program. Justine's world changes at the initial hazing ritual for the new students. She is forced to consume a raw rabbit kidney which is an issue as she is a strict vegan along with both her parents and her sister although Alexia puts the most pressure on her to eat the kidney and seems to have turned into a regular meat eater.
After the hazing incident Justine develops a hunger for the smell and taste of flesh along with an extreme skin itching and peeling episode that lands her in the campus doctor's office. Her sister gives her some information about the goings on at school but also leaves a lot of information occasionally embarrassing Justine for her amusement. Our heroine's appetite continues to grow plus newly developing sexual urges combine to produce a jittery mess of a young woman who spends a good portion of time pin-balling from one emotion to the next.
Julia Ducournau takes a different approach to the horror genre. Jump scares are rare. A central figure does not run up a body count of unsuspecting co-eds. Instead psychology and instinct drive the action. Ducourneau depiction of the events on screen evoke a physical response to the viewer which may explain the extreme reaction of a couple of patrons at the midnight screening at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.
The ensemble case all perform their roles well. Garance Mariller is solid as the naive lead Justine and plays well against Ella Rumpf in the role of her older mischievous sister who has all the answers but dolls out information to Justine in drips and drabs. Rabah Nait Oufella has a large supporting role as Justine's roommate Adrien who identifies himself as gay right off the bat but ends up as the object of both sisters affection.
Raw is a cerebral horror film that delivers the gore in a different manner. The audience experiences the ever growing urges of the lead character at her pace while director Ducourneau often introduces a key event in the past tense when Justine attempts to unravel what has occurred. The unorthodox approach of the narrative makes for an unconventional tale that I can definitely recommend.
*** 1/2 Out of 4.
Raw | Julia Ducournau | France / Belgium | 2016 | 91 Minutes.
Tags; Vegan, Rabbit Kidney, Veternarian School, Hazing, Severed Limb, Car Accident, Animals, Dissection.