“Raw,” Julia Ducournau’s jangly opera of sexual and dietary awakening, is an exceptionally classy-looking movie about deeply horrifying behavior.
Infusing each scene with a cold, unwelcoming beauty, Belgian cinematographer Ruben Impens makes his camera complicit in the trashy goings-on. Sneaking beneath bedsheets and sliding over young flesh, his lens takes us places we may not want to go.
Unfolding during rush week in a nightmarish veterinary school, where freshmen are relentlessly hazed, and every night is a bacchanal, the movie clings nervously to the virginal Justine (Garance Marillier). A jumpy faun in a concrete jungle, Justine is a legacy student and lifelong vegetarian. So when a hazing ritual requires her to swallow raw offal, the angry crimson rash that flares on her body seems a physical manifestation of her extreme disgust.
That repulsion is soon replaced by a craving that will drive Justine closer to her sister and fellow student (Ella Rumpf, terrific) and further from her classmates. Her transformation suffuses the film with animalistic energy — like a cat, she chews on her hair, then vomits it up — and her isolation produces a melancholy that permeates even her erotic encounters, where the connection between sex and sustenance is presented with nerve-twanging literalness.
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Like Jorge Michel Grau’s social-decay fable, “We Are What We Are,” “Raw” is an astonishingly bold debut feature that embeds cannibalism in a framework of environmental chaos and familial dysfunction. There’s no love here, and no comfort; yet the movie’s genius is to make us feel for Justine. Ultimately, she’s just a scared teenager with the world’s worst eating disorder.
(At the Alamo Drafthouse.)
Rated R. Time 1:39.
In French with subtitles