Why, hello there Julia Ducournau! The French director makes her feature film debut with Raw, and it’s one of the most confident first-films you’ll ever see. Nasty, sly, gross-out horror blends itself into a surreal world that I’m glad doesn’t actually exist—dating would be so much more painful than it already is—as it dissects its multi-layered themes in perfectly gory detail. In it, when a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her.
Anyone who thinks horror is in a sad state (spoiler, it isn’t!) needs to be pointed in the direction of Ducournau’s Raw—while horror has always (and will always) push boundaries, this is the perfect example of how exciting the genre is right now with new talent like Ducournau gracing the silver screen with their twisted ideas. We’re seeing films like Raw—a fresh and wild take on conventional horror—so often in recent years that I would argue that horror has never been better than it is in this very moment.
It’s gloriously weird and animalistic in a way, which is perhaps why it’s excessively sexual and vicious: all of which are good qualities in a film that uses cannibalism to drive its story. There’s a lot going on here, too, and it certainly has a lot to say about the world we’re forced to grow up in—it’s the good with the bad, the joy with the terror, and the irrefutable power of desire that drives us all. Only in Justine’s case, that desire is her inescapable need for human flesh that she just so happens to discover while attending veterinarian school—a school, by the way, that operates on a level of batshit crazy that could only exist in the mad mind of Julia Ducournau; that’s what happens when a school is seemingly being run by horny college kids.
Which is why I mentioned earlier that the world of Raw is entirely surreal and totally fitting for a coming-of-age story that revolves around a young woman being consumed by her own desires of cannibalism. And while it’s far from the repulsive and shocking film that was advertised—early reports of people fainting at screenings spread like wildfire and were probably exaggerated—it’s still plenty nasty with some terrific elements of body horror that even the most hardened horror fans will appreciate (I’m looking at you, scene with the finger).
There’s a lot to digest here and it is undoubtedly a fantastic film, but it does have its faults that I think hold it back from being an all-timer. I appreciate the hell out of a film that gets weirder and weirder as it progresses, but where Raw slightly lost me was its inability to engage the audience with a meaningful story that carried as much weight as the horror of a girl going crazy for man-sushi. There were some silly plot points that frankly made little to no sense (I don’t want to get into them here due to spoilers) that slightly diminished the narrative, unfortunately. It’s still a fantastic film despite those hiccups, though, and certainly worthy of all the hype.
So what did we learn from all of this? That the French are beautiful people that also like to make some wonderfully fucked up movies? That we already knew—just look at High Tension, Martyrs, and Frontiers for proof—but what’s important to remember is the name Julia Ducournau, who will no doubt be terrorizing the genre for a very long time. For a feature film debut, Raw is ridiculously stylized and one of the most original horror films of the year—not bad! Its eye-gouging cinematography and skin-crawling score (by Jim Williams) was a gnarly addition to an already nasty little film, tying together a coming-of-age tale unlike any other that has both you and I on the menu.