J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Sundance ’17: Raw

Forget Goat (easily done) and Burning Sands. This is the Sundance hazing film that has real bite. As a first-year student at veterinary college, Justine will be drenched in animal blood and forced to eat uncooked liver as part of the initiation rituals. It all horribly disgusts the vegetarian, until her tastes start to radically change in Julia Ducournau’s Raw (trailer here), which screened at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

When driving Justine to her prestigious but way-the-heck-and-gone vet school, her parents throw a fit when a bit of sausage strays into her mashed potatoes. However, her upper classmen sister Alexia is not so supportive during hazing week (every week is hazing week at this school). She tells her flat-out to eat the darned liver, popping one down the hatch herself, leaving Justine disappointed by her sister’s apparent departure from family custom and hurt by the betrayal.

Soon Justine’s health suffers, most likely the result of bacteria from the raw meat (you think, maybe?). Her relationship with her sister also strains to its breaking point, due Justine’s resentment of Alexia’s bullying and her sister’s jealousy of her curve-shattering academic brilliance. In fact, things will get very bad between them, in ways that ought to irreversibly sever their relationship. Simultaneously, Justine also starts to crave meat—more specifically raw human flesh.

Arguably, Ducournou’s conflation of sexual empowerment with cannibalism is rather awkwardly on-the-nose. However, the rich emotional complexity of the bitter sibling rivalry stands Raw in a category all its own. These sisters are something else entirely. Docournou constantly calls and raises their excesses in ways that make the jaw slacken.

In fact, Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf are both pretty incredible as Justine and Alexia, arguably giving two of the best performances you will ever see from thesps drenched in gore. As Justine (a name that deliberately carries associations with the notorious de Sade), the former is a nest of twitchy sexual insecurities, while the latter is an edgy, brooding bundle of accrued sleights and resentments, somewhat resembling a younger, Frencher, gother Rachel Weisz. Initially, it seems Laurent Lucas (probably best known for Fabrice Du Welz’s Alléluia and Calvaire) is ridiculously under-employed as Justine’s father, but he will have his moment.

If this is how they train vets in France than jet-setters should probably keep all their pets here in America. Regardless, Raw is such an intense film, precisely because it is so personal and intimate. Frankly, it really is the sort of family cannibalism drama We Are What We Are was supposedly cracked up to be. Highly recommended for cult cinema connoisseurs, Raw opens in select theaters March 10th, after screening at this year’s Sundance.

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