Raw, the confident and courageous feature-length debut of writer/director Julia Ducournau, may be a bit of a one-trick pony, but it rides that specialty well.
The French/Belgian co-production follows Justine (Garance Marillier) as she’s dropped off by her parents (Joana Preiss and Laurent Lucas) at a prestigious veterinarian school that her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) also attends.
Barely starting to settle in, she’s roped into the intense traditional week of hazing for first-year students, involving all sorts of imaginative humiliation that keep one guessing as to what new public shamings await and when they’ll be enacted.
Unlike many of her genre peers, especially first-time filmmakers looking to make a quick buck at the expense of production value, Ducournau shoots Raw with a steady visual sense, going handheld in a few dance club sequences and other disorienting moments, each of which are thematically appropriate.
The director maintains that professional control as strict vegetarian Justine gives in to peer pressure and eats a rabbit kidney, after which she develops intense physical side effects as well as a craving for flesh.
Her comprehension of this new taste yields scenes not quite terrifying, but certainly suspenseful and disturbing, as well as wholly believable thanks to Marillier’s fearless performance.
Once the carnivorous yearning manifests itself through one particular specialty, there’s still a playfulness and unpredictability about just how Justine will act on these impulses, but also a decreasing sense of narrative agency.
And so, Raw becomes more a series of gross-out moments and less a story of one young woman’s awakening, though Ducournau’s commitment to gore through a refined lens is commendable nonetheless.
Grade: B. Rated R. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Focus Features)