Writer and director Julia Ducournau’s sticky, blood-flecked Raw doesn’t necessarily fall into the grisly chambers of body horror even though the film’s carmine color palette screams out to the genre. Body horror – such as Elias’ Gut or the Soska Sisters’ American Mary – utilize the epidermis as a sort of carnival act. There’s shadowy, tongue-in-cheek humor affixed to organ-blotted peril. There’s no real sense of seriousness in the model’s deliberately callow delivery. The desired reaction of this genre is guffaws and gross-outs. Occasionally a myopic and displaced psychological narrative will appear, but never to its desired effect. And, mostly, that’s okay.
Ducournau’s Raw is another genre altogether, though it is not clear exactly what that classification may be. The film is drearily serious, portentously grim, and not frightening whatsoever. But the argument can be made that the picture is an allegory for familial guilt — but if so, the motifs and metaphors are so on the nose that Raw could be dismissed as an ambitious student film. And it is certainly not that. Ducournau’s uneven opus about an unassuming veterinary student named Justine (Garance Marillier), whose basest desires lead her down a path of lurid cannibalism, is both interesting and macabre. The pithy self-discovery, seen here, almost lends itself to Ginger Snaps, a movie in which psychosexuality and nonconformity worked in a daring prose that Raw conspicuously lacks.
Ducournau’s film numbs with shock more than it affects with imagery. But in a time when homogenized screenplays are being produced with relative thoughtlessness, Raw refuses to comply with spurious aphorisms. A polarizing, sinew sucking storyline should be a considered a valued success, whether or not the themes of repression and obedience work as well as the filmmaker intended. Much like Gaspar Noe, Michael Haneke and Yorgos Lanthimos, Ducournau uses repulsion to speak on human relationships.
At the center of Raw’s carnal baying is a possessed performance by Garance Marillier. The young thespian commits herself to intense physical exhaustion that includes everything from eye-lolling trances and viscous regurgitation to teeth-baring stupors — Marillier’s monomaniacal dedication to Ducournau’s film is intensely visceral. While Raw doesn’t stun and slither the way it is intended to, there’s a lot to admire in a movie that wanders off the trail of conventionality and finds itself in the thorns and thickets of a very unapologetic and psychological wilderness. Here’s to Ducournau’s next release.