Raw ★★★★★

Julia Ducournau’s Raw debuted last year to whisperings of greatness as it left audience members in equal states of arrest and fatigue following its premiere. A cannibal story for the modern age, with visceral bloodlust and merciless intimacies surrounding this all too identifiable coming-of-age story following the young and aspiring veterinary student Justine (Garance Marillier) in her soul-searching odyssey for the self.

Raw is a triumph on so many levels, but its greatest virtue lies in its symbolic uncertainties in the pallet of its thematic spectrum. Unpacking the dense layers of purpose are by the design of the filmmaker intentionally impressionistic, leaving the audience to chew the fat of the narrative while its themes regarding family and identity sink deep into the flesh. It grabs the heart and guts as it quietly tests the boundaries of its supposedly horrific premise. Supposedly being the adequate phrase, as you call into question just how barbaric the actions of our heroine truly are when compared to the sickening displays of the college’s upper tier hazing rituals – which have the first years crawl on their hands and abide under rule like fresh meat for the grinder. The separation between human and animal becomes a farcical construct, and it’s hard not to want to root for Justine to descend upon her objectionable peers with haste and swift vengeance.

But the story isn’t one of nihilism or hate; it is rather surprisingly one of family and the kinship of blood. Her older sibling Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is already a well-established name on campus, and a seemingly different person to the one she used to know from home, who has apparently undergone her own personal change already as she has abandoned her parents' vegetarian attitudes and sought to discover and build her own identity alone.

The changes that Justine experiences on a psychological level change her physical state of being in ways beyond the metaphorical. With the first taste of animal flesh as a catalyst, and literally shedding her old skin in favour of a new one that will see her through her dark exploration of sexuality and personality as she finds new and sordid desires to divulge in. The violence is restrained and mostly insinuated, but the repercussions lay bare and bleeding on the floor with wetness and a sting in its tail, made all the more traumatically horrifying by the context of the situation she is involved in. Newcomer Garance Marillier is simply astonishing as the lonely soul at the centre of the story, with a physical ability to match her overwhelming emotional strength and an effortlessly convincing chemistry with Ella Rumpf.

The breathtaking level of clarity paid to character and dialogue is served greater purpose by Ducournau’s undeniably brilliant direction and Jim Williams’ spun-out score. Her frames ooze with friction and a grotesque beauty both during and outside of these horrors, shot with a sharp witticism and burning desire to get the most out of every scene and confrontation. She knows what to show and what to cut to garner the greatest emotional response over one of gut-wrenching brutality, wanting you to feel in your heart more than wretch from your stomach. The dramatic arc and resolve of the narrative is well-built and earned, with a blisteringly brilliant final scene of darkly funny and earnest intention.

Raw is yet further evidence that some of the best horror pictures coming out this decade rest in the hands of women; a scorching, touching and captivating piece of hard to tackle filmmaking with a relevance and stature for the ages.

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