RAW is an unsettling film that gets under your skin and stays there like a terrible, tunnelling disease. Some of the early scenes are the most compelling as Justine (Garance Marillier) joins her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) at veterinary college. The newbie is thrown into a radical hazing that provides both the trigger and the horrific backdrop for everything to come. Right from the opening, this is a disrupted world of violent disorder where responsible adults have little presence and zero power over the young.
Over an unflinching 99mins, we see Justine turn from naive vegetarian to snarling, meat-ripping animal. Julia Ducournau’s camera shows the full horror of her descent, one virtuoso sequence revealing Justine’s newfound hunger in all its gristle-crunching glory. The initially dispassionate responses from her sibling to this and other atrocities compounds RAW’s Cronenbergian DNA, polluting the film’s world with an appetite for perverted carnality. Occasionally peppered with high-steaks humour, these sequences can prompt audiences to gasp as well as giggle, giving rise to many an argument about the film’s merits that last long after the lights come back on.
Despite its rock-solid tonal cohesion and wince-inducing shocks, RAW peaks too soon, leaving itself very little distance to travel come the final reel. When Justine’s shocking dietary proclivities are exposed to the rest of the campus on social media, the storytelling stumbles, benumbed undergrads discarding the news as yesterday’s chip paper. Whilst this could be an interesting bit of social commentary, it falls flat.
Similarly, by the time the characters’ fates are finalised, we too have already seen too much yet come to care too little. Last-minute plot revelations have that unsatisfactory feeling of a script coming to an abrupt end rather than a fully-fleshed out story having been told.
IN BRIEF: Julia Ducournau’s unsettling debut solo feature that gets under your skin & stays there like a terrible, tunneling disease.
STRAPLINE: “What are you hungry for?”
An earlier version of this review was posted at radiantcircus.com.