Raw – Film Review

Cannibalism and comedy combine in a horror film that might just reunite you with your last meal

The last film that made this writer want to puke was Love Actually. For very different and far better reasons, masterful French-Belgian body horror Raw activated the gag reflex at least three times. Watching it in a cinema feels like taking part in a social experiment on the nature of disgust. At one point, at least half of the audience had cupped hands over mouths; many of the rest were looking away. Its humour – and there is plenty – generated big belly laughs of relief as a result. It’s a film best enjoyed as a shared experience. It is not a film best enjoyed before, over or after dinner.

 

Directed by first-timer Julia Ducournau, Raw follows vegetarian Justine as she starts veterinary school at a bleak campus university in Belgium. As part of a series of sick hazing rituals passed down through the generations, she eats a raw rabbit kidneys and unlocks an appetite she didn’t know existed. So it’s a film about cannibalism but it’s also, in the great horror tradition, about sex and hormones and coming of age, and a fierce sibling rivalry that makes Liam and Noel look like Topsy and Tim. Garance Marillier, in the lead role, puts in a powerful performance. She’s the victim of the piece as well as the villain, swinging between fear, resolve and pure, demented delight as her fleshlust grows. If it has a message, it’s not the vegan or vegetarian agenda you might assume; it’s about the power of desire and the difficulty of growing up in an age where your worst moments might be posted to the internet. 

 

Raw dares you to keep looking through its stomach-churning, bum-squirming set pieces, whether you’re watching an animal being dissected, a bikini line being waxed or a girl chowing down on human meat. By the time it reaches its hugely satisfying climax, the film has thrilled, repulsed and amused more than any horror in recent memory. Where the exploitative, gross-out Human Centipede films made body horror a dirty word, this is the one that’s turned it into an artform. Not a ‘popcorn movie’ in any sense of the phrase.

 

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