Julia Ducournau rolls her eyes in a deeply très cool way that’s impossible for anyone who’s not French to pull off. The 33-year-old director is talking about the way her arthouse horror movie has turned into a mini-scandal after a screening last year at the Toronto Film Festival in which a couple of people fainted and were rushed to hospital.
The film is ‘Raw’ and follows a 17-year-old vegetarian, Justine (Garance Marillier), who gets a taste for human flesh during freshers’ week at veterinary college – leading to a watch-from-behind-your-hands scene involving a severed finger.
And if you’ve ever rolled your eyes at the horror movie trope of the hot blonde running around in her knickers, this is for you. Ducournau is one of a new generation of female horror filmmakers transforming the traditionally sexist genre.
Is it weird becoming known as the director who's making people pass out in cinemas?
‘Yes. The way I’ve been portrayed in reviews, it’s like I am Morticia Addams or Marilyn Manson. I’m not that person. I’m sweeter.’
Were you at the screening where ambulances had to be called?
‘Yes. But it was two people – out of 1,200. Next thing, you’re reading about a wave of people fainting. It’s become an urban legend.’
So the film's not that scary?
‘No! My movie is not a horror movie. I call it my mutant. It’s a crossover of comedy, family drama and body horror. But now people are only talking about the gory bits.’
Isn't that good for publicity?
‘No. It’s really a bummer. I think there are people who’re too scared to see it, when they could have handled it. It’s not torture porn. But the people who want to see torture porn are going to be disappointed.’
Is there one particular scene that's freaking people out – the finger?
‘Yes! The finger. In everyone’s mind it’s really gory. But it’s not. There is only one close-up. Everything else is pretty much in your head. You don’t see much. What’s so disturbing about it is that it starts as comedy. It becomes more uneasy, more of a nervous giggle. Then all of a sudden you’re not laughing any more.’
Julia Ducournau's ‘Raw’
‘It was important for me to portray a body honestly’
‘As a taboo I find it interesting. When you see a murderer, you don’t say he isn’t human any more. But when you talk about a cannibal you think of a monster. In movies cannibals are treated like zombies or aliens. For me the question is: why?’
Was it important for you to make the gory bits look real?
‘Yes. I didn’t overdo the blood. The movie shocks people because it’s not gory. We are so used to blood in movies. In the first three seconds of a big blockbuster you see three heads being severed. You see gushing CGI blood. It’s too much blood to be relatable. There’s actually not a lot of blood in the finger.’
Horror movies are full of women running scared in their pants. Was ‘Raw’ a revolt against misogyny?
‘I do think that the portrayals of women in movies – not just horror movies – are sexualised. There is nothing true about it. I can’t relate to it. It was important for me to portray a body honestly. I wanted to show she had dark rings under her eyes, pores, acne.’
Do you feel part of a new generation of female feminist horror directors?
‘My movie is feminist. But I didn’t set myself the goal: “I’m going to make a feminist movie.” I am a feminist in life. So it shows in my movie.’
Last question. Is it true that you watched a horror movie aged six?
‘Yes! It was a pure accident. My parents took me to a dinner party with them and put me in front of cartoons in the bedroom. I changed channels to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. I didn’t cry. I remember it so distinctly. You can’t not remember seeing Leatherface.’
‘Raw’ is in UK cinemas Fri Apr 7.