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article imageReview: TIFF 2016: ‘Raw’ is an intense depiction of growing up Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 17, 2016 in Entertainment
The cannibalism in ‘Raw’ provides a commendably visceral representation of a reticent teenage girl’s experiences as a college freshman.
Graduating from high school and going to college is a rite of passage that is both terrifying and thrilling for most freshmen. In addition to a new level of learning and responsibility, they have to contend with a whole new social structure: new friends, new enemies and new rules. Living on campus brings with it the freedom of no parental supervision and the pitfalls of indulging without previously respected limits. But those are just the most general consequences of going away to school; the adjustments required vary for everyone and may be worse for some. In Raw, one teen girl discovers a whole new side of herself she wishes didn’t exist.
Justine (Garance Marillier) is top of her class and following family tradition by going into veterinary medicine. Her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), is already there, but being the black sheep of the family she isn’t expected to provide much support as Justine adapts to her new life. The first step to fitting in means betraying her strict vegetarian diet and consuming uncooked meat, to which she has a terrible allergic reaction. In addition to a head-to-toe rash, she begins to have strange, insatiable cravings… for raw protein. Justine’s inaugural week is a blur of classes, parties, initiations… and murder. Something inside her is changing and Alexia may have the answers, though they may not be the solution for which Justine was hoping.
This is a coming-of-age tale akin to the Canadian cult classic Ginger Snaps, in which a teen girl’s newfound needs and feelings are expressed via a more monstrous transformation. However this film has more of a European flavour, including a series of flashy, underground raves, overt sexuality and nudity, and slightly less scarring hazing rituals. Justine is a bit of a wallflower before being dropped off at school with her suitcase and colourful sheets. This new world of wild parties, flowing alcohol and promiscuous sex is going to take more than a little getting used to as it opens her eyes to everything she missed during her timid youth. These new temptations also result in new emotions, which are somewhat overwhelming and lead to some poor decisions. However, the narrative manifestation of these sensations is a need for human flesh. Mixed with sexual desire, Justine wants nothing more than to physically devour her partners.
The other story being told is about the love-hate relationship between siblings. There are moments in which Alexia appears to be a great older sister, hanging out with Justine, giving her tips, and encouraging her to do her best and have fun. But then, at other times, she’s the worst bully Justine has ever encountered, doing unimaginable harm to a member of her own family. Justine is kind and relatively innocent, continuing to care for and trust Alexia in spite of how poorly she generally treats her. Their rivalry spills into the public in the form of an all-out brawl at the centre of campus, which causes the many spectators to take an additional step back as the two begin to mercilessly bite chunks from each other’s bodies.
This is a notably visceral film which expands that rawness beyond the scenes of physical yearning and consumption. In spite of a questionable final scene, writer/director Julia Ducournau’s debut feature is a solid venture into female-led horror that captures the real and fantastic challenges of first-year.
The film had its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Don’t miss the rest of our TIFF 2016 coverage.
Director: Julia Ducournau
Starring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf and Rabah Nait Oufella
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