Raw ★★★★★

Part of Ryster's Hoop-Tober 4.0

Here's the thing with Raw, for me it lived up (and even surpassed) it's notorious reputation. The debut feature film from French director Julia Ducournau was said to be shocking, grotesque and highly disturbing. So much so that when it was shown at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival people were physically sick due to the content. People needed medical help because of this film. Now, if that doesn't get you enticed for a film, I don't know what will. After hearing that I stayed away from reviews and anything to do with the film until I had the opportunity to see it. Now, after experiencing this film, I was floored. This isn't a horror in the general sense, I'd go as far as say that this isn't even a horror film. There may be highly disturbing and horrific plot lines and some incredibly graphic depictions, but at its heart it's a coming of age drama. The horror aspect is used for added effect, symbolising ideas and visualising the desires we have that we don't want people to know about. When this started I had no idea that it would be strangely relatable or even by the end quite emotionally impactful and moving.

Justine arrives at a veterinary school just in time to be thrown into the humiliating and challenging hazing ritual. In order for her to be accepted by her peers she has to eat a raw rabbit kidney. Justine, who's been a vegetarian her whole life, suddenly starts to experience side effects, developing rashes and cravings that she's never dealt with before.

I was very surprised to see that this is the feature film debut of Garance Marillier. She absolutely nails it as Justine. She's done work on short films but nothing major, and she's in her late teens here. When I learned this, I was more impressed. Because this is a role that requires so much to actually be effective. For me to actually sympathise and root for a character that has the qualities and dark desires that Justine has, you're going to need a really good actor. And she's perfect here. She's actually a really likeable character and her troubles can even be quite relatable. She's a character dealing with an identity crisis of sorts. She feels urges that have never been felt before, she's growing up, and we've all been there. The subtle transformation that happens constantly throughout to the character is portrayed brilliantly by Marillier. One minute she's looking over at a horse with fear, the next she's ripping open a dead animal like its nothing. And this progression feels natural. And in the final thirty or so minutes, she's actually really scary to watch. But the standout scenes are the ones where she's by herself, in her bed. Those are highly effective and Marillier really sells it. This is a brilliant performance.

Co-starring alongside Marillier as Justine's sister, Alexia, is Ella Rumpf and she too is really good. To start with, you think she's a stereotypical sister, one that believes she's better than the main character. This soon changes though through the incredible screenplay and the direction it takes. Therefore allowing Rumpf to show a mix of compassion and understanding within her character. There was one scene in particular where Rumpf really shined with her acting ability. Where many emotions including sadness and regret are shown through her face, and only her face. It's a surprisingly emotional scene and it's thanks to both Marillier and Rumpf working together.

I know for a fact that many films share similar premises to the one here, but Raw felt completely original. The screenplay is riveting while all its telling is a coming of age story, but a strong one at that. A girl finding out who she really is. Like I said, the horror aspect represents the most relatable aspect of this story. Justine is a character that is learning to accept herself and her desires. It just so happens that her desires are quite horrific. But the feelings and emotions felt by the character are ones that we've all felt at some point in life. And it makes this whole bloody, disturbing affair familiar. It's truly a strength of the screenplay that we continue to like, care for and understand the main character even when she's doing things that are completely inhumane. It's also really humorous at times and never once did that humour feel out of place. I wasn't able to tell where it was all going, and the film threw many incredible twists. The reveals are jaw droppingly good and I had so much fun with them. The ending just left me stunned, I couldn't look away and I just sat there watching the credits.

Julia Ducournau does a phenomenal job in directing this beast. Many people say that Raw's overly art house. And while I can agree that it's more suited towards that crowd due to the extreme imagery, this doesn't strike me as an art house film. The most obvious connotation to art house being boring, and this film is anything but. I was absolutely riveted. I gasped, I shrieked and I could feel my skin crawl, I loved every minute of Raw. If anything, I wouldn't have minded the film being a bit longer because as the film was wrapping up I still felt like there was more, I was that invested. I can't wait to recommend this to people just to see what their opinions are on it. With the relatable story at its core, and Ducournau's fantastic directing (she places the characters and their story at the forefront instead of the horror and gore) I can see many people finding this thrilling.

This is a beautifully shot film. From the cold and uneasy opening shot of a car accident, through the various one shot underground rave scenes, right to the very last horrifying (but incredibly amazing) image. It's gorgeous to look at and there was never a moment where I wasn't dragged in by the visuals. Even in the most disturbing and grotesque scenes, the cinematography is still absolutely fantastic. The effects are quite seamless. It's fantastic body horror and it really made me feel uneasy at times. The most disgusting scene for me wasn't even one of the more gnarlier scenes, but the rash Justine develops. That got to me, because it looks so realistic. I'm normally fine with that kind of stuff in horror movies, but here it was something else. The blood, flesh, guts, you name it, are all realistic here, and the camera never shies away.

The score here by Jim Williams might just be one of my favourites of 2016, or 2017 if you count this as a 2017 release, either way it's an incredible score. It's a mix of violin and piano and as the film progresses the harshness of the instrument increases. It works so well with the film as it starts off calm and slowly melodic. Before including certain screeches and jumps in pitch in certain pieces. And it all comes to a head with the main title theme which is phenomenal. Not only does this work so well in the film, racking up the tension and emotions as Justine herself matures, but it's honestly fantastic to listen to. The various songs included in some scenes are also brilliantly used, especially The Dø's song Despair, Hangover & Ecstasy in the first rave scene and Ma Che Freddo Fa by Nada nearing the film's end.

Raw was given a certain reputation because of the content within the film, but not because of what the film actually is. Yes, it is disturbing and disgusting at times as the blood and flesh are realistically used, but to call it a horror film would be to diminish the film. Because it is so much more. It's a coming of age drama, but an original, unpredictable and surprisingly emotional and moving one at that. Pair that with some fantastic body horror elements, a pitch perfect performance from Garance Marillier and incredible directing from Julia Ducournau, and you've got an incredibly strong debut. I can't recommend it enough.

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