"We found a way to make it work."
Horror is often referred to as the best route to take with a directorial debut. As a genre it provides the ideal opportunity to display your own skills and directorial prowess and set yourself apart as a filmmaker to watch. Already this year we saw ‘Get Out’ mark Jordan Peele as a director to follow in the future and now we have this intense, psychological horror written and directed by Julia Ducournau. Can it add to the already impressive rostra of 2017?
Stringent vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier) encounters a decadent, merciless and dangerously seductive world during her first week at veterinary school. Desperate to fit in, she strays from her principles and eats raw meat for the first time. The young woman soon experiences terrible and unexpected consequences as her true self begins to emerge.
According to interviews Julia Ducournau was first exposed to the power of cinema at the age of six when she accidentally viewed ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ which is certainly a unique exposure to say the least. I mean I was scared by the ‘Treehouse of Horror’ episodes of ‘The Simpsons’ at that age and I can’t help but think a viewing of Tobe Hooper’s infamous horror classic would be, shall we say mildly traumatic? But clearly such an influence has had a resounding effect when it comes to her filmmaking.
If you want to know why foreign films are so different to the kind that Hollywood shifts out then ‘Raw’ is a prime example of that. The imagery, ideas and overall style of the movie is just so radically different to anything we would expect from the Hollywood horror genre. ‘Raw’ takes an almost meditative approach to such a brutal and horrifying subject, and in an odd sense it is that unique and unconventional approach that makes it all the more effective.
When the movie premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Festival there were numerous reports of people fainting during said screening and it’s not a reaction I’m entirely baffled by. ‘Raw’ does have a visceral nature to it but it’s not achieved by copious amounts of blood and gore. It is a psychological intensity that gets under our very skin and crawls into our minds. In the same way that David Cronenberg understood that true horror lies within Ducournau adopts a similar strategy in terms of how she portrays the horror of her film.
More than anything else ‘Raw’ is a story of identity, conveying the inner desire within everyone to fit in with the crowd. In fact, in the same way the main character of the film uncovers her own identity it is up to the viewer to uncover where this film will go next. Narratively it takes so many unexpected twists and turns that literally just a few minutes from the end I still had no idea where the plot would go next. Through all those twists the movie manages to be surreal, intense and satirical with brilliant unison. Due to the fact that the atmosphere Ducournau creates is so immersive I never felt overwhelmed by this ever turning narrative and style, it just draws the viewer in and never let’s go.
What also helps to create this effect is the way the film never seems to forget its centre. At the heart of ‘Raw’ lies a frighteningly disturbing character study, commenting upon how the world around the main character slowly changes her into something else but also questioning whether said change was within her all along. Without spoiling anything its final twist in particular throws this question into the front and centre. While I can safely say that if you are expecting every conflict and concept of the movie to be resolved then the ending will leave you disappointed. As long as you can accept that the film is leaving certain aspects up to interpretation and remaining ambiguous to a certain degree chances are you will find it just as impressive as I did.
But aside from her brilliant screenplay and conceptual talents, Ducournau shows great promise as a director here as well. The provocative compositions and deep symbolism of the movie are rooted within its visual style whilst also never overshadowing the story at hand. Her direction displays great intensity but also an ability to blend the satirical with the terrifying. Similarly to Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’ from earlier this year you can see the influences on her style but the film is clearly its own unique product at the same time. She creates a great feeling of suspense that is more unsettling that outright scary, but no less deserving of respect. All of the performances are eerily unsettling as well, which matches the tone of the movie perfectly, as does the crisp cinematography that only makes the blood seem all the more crimson in contrast.
An unsettling metaphor for identity and ideologies, executed with brilliant
finesse and brutal elegance.