Monday, March 27, 2017

Movie Review: Raw (2017)

French newcomer Julia Ducournau's gripping psychological body horror brings to mind many of the great aspects of Roman Polanski's Repulsion, including and especially the idea of a young woman's sexual awakening.  Starring an exceedingly gifted Garance Marillier as freshman veterinary student (and staunch vegetarian) Justine, Raw begins during her first week at school - a cruel, rather torturous hazing period during which new students have their rooms ransacked, are dragged to mandatory late-night raves, are doused with animal blood, and are forced to eat rabbit kidneys.  The latter incident seemingly triggers a long-repressed hunger in Justine which manifests itself as a constant, overwhelming craving for human flesh.

This haunting, disturbing film unfolds as a metaphor for Justine's budding sexual maturity and self-discovery.  Her older sister Alexia, an upperclassman at the same school, serves as both mentor and tormentor, in very unexpected ways, and the story soon begins hurtling toward a showdown for the role of alpha-female.

Ducournau uses bleakly gorgeous cinematography and somewhat muted colors as an understated canvas on which to render her vivid character study.  The coldness of the setting reminded me of Kubrick at times, with expansive, wide-angle shots showing the characters' tiny forms off in the distance.  At other times she uses shaky handhelds to plunge the viewer directly into the chaos, like when the diminutive Justine tries to navigate her way through overcrowded, decadent parties.

The guitar/synth-driven score by Jim Williams heightens the severity of the horror elements in much the same way as Disasterpiece's superbly unnerving score for It Follows.  Moments of revulsion are made that much more jarring with Williams' piercing strains; one particular bit of Justine's new self-awareness merged amazingly with the music underneath to hammer home the severity of we've just seen.

I can't say too much about the narrative itself without giving away spoilers, and it's better if you go into this movie cold.  Suffice it to say Raw delivers multiple shocks that impact far more effectively than your garden-variety jump scare, gruesome imagery that unsettles on a very elemental level, profound and universal themes that resonate long after you've left the theater, and deliciously unexpected, horrific twists.  The acting is understated, internalized, and wholly believable, particularly from the two leads, Marillier and Ella Rumpf, both relative newbies who fully embody the two halves of this perverse sibling rivalry.

Raw is one of the best, most original horror films I've seen in recent years; thought-provoking, urgently captivating, and thus far for me a psychological lingerer.  I can't wait to watch it again.

I give this film **** out of ****.

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