Still from 2017's "Raw."

assuredness, and announced herself a powerful telekinetic who wouldn’t hesitate in seeking vengeance if you wronged her. In Jennifer’s Body (2009), a barely legal vixen’s sexual awakening coincided with her turning into a vampire. In It Follows (2015), the transformation into a sexual being unfortunately equated with a potential for a grisly demise.

 

Raw isn’t any better than these aforementioned features — they’re all superior, scarier, and smarter — but what it does effectively is turn Justine’s sudden need for human flesh into an intelligent metaphor for youthful, temporary self-actualization. For that moment that arrives during the earliest years of your adulthood in which you discover a new strand of yourself and come to an understanding that you’d rather die than leave it unexplored. And that strand could be anything: the reawakening, for all intents and purposes, could be sexual, creative, intellectual.

 

Justine, of course, doesn’t see her transformation coming. When we first meet her, she’s too concerned with readjustment: as the film opens, her parents, after a quick meal, are dropping her off at the local veterinary college, where her older sister, the raven-haired Alexia (Ella Rumpf), also attends. 

 

This isn’t a typical university. Colleges across the nation — including my own — are more likely to see a freshman’s first few days uncomfortable and quiet, a period where everyone’s trying to get to know one another without laying too much of themselves on the line.

 

But this veterinary outlet comes across as a lesson in Hedonism 101: before Justine can so much as sleep off the preceding day, she’s forced to attend an off-the-rails party cum hazing ritual meant to welcome the new students. To the squarish, though, it’s about as welcoming as Studio 54 at the height of a 2 a.m. cocaine binge.

 

The next morning, the new class, in their scientific robes for a school-sanctioned photo sesh, get interrupted once again by their elder classmates, who, for a prank, cover them in blood and force them to eat a rabbit kidney, an endeavor with which Justine is clearly uncomfortable. Everyone in her family is a vegetarian, and the very thought of consuming the meat of a living creature is less appealing than two-finger tickling the back of her throat. But the peer pressure, surprisingly led by her sister, is so great, she sucks it up.

 

But she regrets it immediately. That night, she wakes up with an excruciating rash. A day or so later, she craves, and finally eats, slabs of raw chicken. Shortly after, she devours someone’s finger after a waxing session goes bad. 

 

Whatever was in that rabbit kidney has awakened something within this girl — though apparently the new characteristic might even run in the family.

 

Like a particularly demented David Cronenberg movie, though, Raw is more repulsive, provocative, and ugly than it is scary or visceral — it’s a horror feature that toys with our gag reflex more than it does our fears. Its success depends on how much you like Cronenberg’s style, or how much you get off on trying to find the meaning within films that aren’t always so obvious about their intentions. 

 

I look at it as a creepy coming-of-age movie which simplistically exchanges a newfound need to use one’s sexual organs with a thirst for blood, and not a whole lot more. Though Ducournau announces herself a talented young filmmaker with a great eye, and though Marillier is a revelation, with her killer angry stare and her inexplicable way of appearing both innocent and jaded, Raw’s more mutedly grotesque than it is genuinely stimulating. 

 

We’d like to feel as alive in viewing the movie as Justine does when she’s devouring human flesh and bone, spitting in the face of social norms. But we mostly sit back in a sort of exhausted repulsion, unexcited when thinking about the prospects of living through yet another depraved scene. But Raw’s so well-made, and so unrivaled in this decade of horror, it has to be seen to be believed. B

DIRECTED BY

Julia Ducournau

 

STARRING

Garance Marillier
Ella Rumpf

Rabah Naït Oufella
Laurent Lucas

Joanna Preiss

Bouli Lanners

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

2017

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 39 Mins.

Raw October 11, 2017        

n Julia Ducournau’s Raw (2017), the foam-mouthed rabidity of bloodlust and the wide-eyed innocence of virginity are juxtaposed in the same way beauty and horror were in Giulio Paradisi’s The Visitor (1979) or Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980). In it, a baby-haired, chaotically-browed 18-year-old named Justine (Garance Marillier) comes of age. As a cannibal.

 

We’ve seen teens walk into adulthood amidst a backdrop of horror before. In Carrie (1976), a nervous waif snapped, traded her meekness for one-track-minded

I