As the Hollywood horror factory continues to churn out generic jump scares and Conjuring spin-offs, the French remain at the forefront of the genre, as anyone who’s been traumatised by the likes of Inside, Martyrs and High Tension will attest.
Euro-horror isn’t afraid to tackle taboos with unflinching gusto, and writer-director Julia Ducournau’s arthouse cannibal film is an appetising feast of coming-of-age themes and Cronenbergian body horror.
Justine (Garance Marillier) is a reserved first-year student at a veterinary school, who undergoes a frightening transformation following a hazing ritual that involves a basement rave, being drenched in animal blood (Carrie-style), and consuming a raw rabbit kidney. It’s the latter that proves problematic – she’s a strict vegetarian and her first taste of forbidden flesh has nightmarish consequences for Justine, her older sister (who’s also a student at the school) and her gay roommate. What begins as a nasty, skin-peeling rash quickly develops into a hunger for human flesh as well as an increased sexual appetite, transforming the virginal Justine into a predator.
Raw arrives with a lot of buzz following reports of audience members fainting during its TIFF premiere. Perhaps they were drunk – despite its grisly subject it’s not an overly gruesome film by French standards, although there are several squirm-inducing set pieces including a Brazilian waxing that goes horribly wrong, a severed finger, and the old vet school standby of a hand up a cow’s behind. However, these shock tactics are mere condiments to a haunting rites-of-passage story that’s as much about fitting in and family ties as it is about cannibalism.
Stylish, measured and disturbing, Raw won’t make you faint but it will make you think, and also appreciate what the French have to offer when it comes to quality horror. It might even make you hungry for a rare steak.
In cinemas: April 20, 2017
Starring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella
Directed by: Julia Ducournau