English Title: Raw
Original Title: Grave
Country: France, Belgium, Italy
Genre: Drama, Horror
Director/Writer: Julia Ducournau
Music: Jim Williams
Cinematography: Ruben Impens
Rabah Nait Oufella
Opening with a precipitous car accident witnessed by audience from afar, which in due time we will realize is a girl in her depredatory mode, French director Julia Ducournau’s throbbing debut feature RAW, intriguingly analogizes an adolescent girl’s inchoate sexual prowess to her cannibal thirst, vigorously borrowing grisly body horror tropes, spiffed up with striking palette arrangement, but also smartly desisting any temptation to use jump-scares for cheap thrills.
Justine (Marillier) is a junior student newly enrolls in a veterinary school, joining her elder sister Alexia (Rumpf), and a weird fact is that even their parents are the school’s former students, something is iffy here. After a rumbustious hazing ritual involving quadrupedal movement and the baptism of blood-shedding, coerced by Alexia, vegetarian Justine grudgingly eats a rabbit’s kidney as a symbol of initiation, which later triggers acute anaphylaxis on her skin, soon she develops a hunger for meat, whether it is cooked or raw, and when Alexia accidentally shears off one of her own fingers, she is all misty-eyed when finds out Justine is ravenously munching her severed, consanguineous digit.
Unexpectedly, Alexia’s tears are not of fear, disgust or horror, but a startling realization (and even consolation) that she is not the only one, who craves for human flesh, now she has her own sister to share the secret and passes on her the depredatory skills of how to procure fresh flesh. But they are not two peas in a pod despite of their blood tie, on the one hand, an androgynous, anarchic Alexia mostly follows her primeval impulse and doesn’t give a toss of anyone else (her initial rudeness to Justine is appalling); on the other hand, a sheepish tenderfoot as she appears, Justine is more adaptive, more pliant but also capable of prohibiting her predatory instinct when she wills. Like in her fantasy-fulfilling intercourse with her gay roommate Adrien (Oufella, totally stripped down to Justine’s female gaze, and rarely, a gay supporting character is not primarily labeled by his sexuality), it is clearly who is calling the shots here, and she would rather hurt herself than harm Adrien, who is not too bovine to give her a wide berth afterwards in view of her abnormal behavior, only his flesh is just too scrumptious to save him from becoming the next victim. Both actresses here are marvelous coded by their disparate parameters, a lanky Garance Marillier intrepidly holds court from A to Z, especially in her under-the-sheet withdrawal sequences and Ella Rumpf absolutely brings about an enigmatic character out of her rough-hewn cocoon with an electrifying presence that runs the gamut from catatonic to corybantic.
Eventually and roundly, RAW explains the parentage of the sisters’ perversity in the reveal, when their lives start to bifurcate, and by lumping it with a “find a way to deal with it” statement, Ducournau ingeniously normalizes it as a young girl’s growing pains, a condition that is varied for everyone, and in toto, RAW is a sanguine first feature valorously defies its gory premise and an empowering allegory of petticoat potency, rationality and fragility.