Julia Ducournau’s French campus cannibal horror serves up plenty of food for thought.
The Gallic appetite for raw meat takes on a new meaning in Julia Ducournau’s unabashedly gory debut, a French campus cannibal horror which had audiences racing for the exit in its Critics’ Week Cannes screening. But for those who can stomach its gross-out horror, it’s a delectably wild and modern feminist fable.
Justine (a breakout Garance Marillier) is a first-year veterinary student, continuing a family tradition by enrolling at the same establishment attended by her straight-laced parents and spunky older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf). She’s also a militant vegetarian but, thanks to ritualistic “hazings”, she is forced to eat raw meat for the first time. The loss of her veg-inity arouses something deep within her, setting in motion a deadly and stomach-churning descent into more exotic dishes.
A scene featuring scissors and a severed finger is just one of the many unsettling sights in this bold body horror from writer/director Ducournal. Set in the dank confines of a campus away from the city, a lot of credit must go to the props department for the highly stylised but realistic early sequences that eventually give way to a more psychological terror. Frequently neon-lit and scored to strains of pulsing electro (by Ben Wheatley regular Jim Williams), Raw has more than a dash of Nicolas Winding Refn about it.
Ducournal elicits two stand-out performances from her young leads, with Marillier and Rumpf demonstrating the kind of emotional shorthand that makes them totally convincing as on-screen sisters. Marillier is especially committed to the director’s demented vision, and comparisons to Sissy Spacek’s blood-soaked role in Carrie are bang on the money.
There’s also a touch of Sam Raimi black comedy and the matter-of-fact grisliness of French genre titles like TV’s The Returned. And there’s a timely commentary on female sexuality that shows a filmmaker willing to break the mould – Justine, for one thing, is a feminist who makes pre-emptive strikes on prospective male aggressors, with bloody consequences. The bloodlust may grab all the headlines, but this fright night favourite in the making has plenty to sink your teeth into.
Published 17 May 2016
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