Have you got what it takes to sit through ‘Raw’? Last year, a festival screening of this French arthouse cannibal movie, directed by 33-year-old Julia Ducournau, turned into a bit of a medical emergency when audience members passed out. No ambulances were required when I saw it, but there was lots of nervous giggling before the film and plenty of yelps of horror during.
The stomach-churning ace up its sleeve is how disturbingly realistic the grisly bits are (and there are some very grisly bits). Watching fake blood spurt from a screaming victim in a Tarantino movie is one thing, but the anatomically correct bite marks and flayed tendons in ‘Raw’ may send the contents of your stomach rising up.
It opens with Justine (Garance Marillier), a shy, clever – and vegetarian – teenager arriving at veterinary school, where freshers’ week involves the ritual humiliation of newbie ‘rookies’ by older students. When Justine is forced to eat a piece of raw rabbit liver it gives her a taste for flesh. Within hours she’s ferally ransacking the fridge, sniffing raw chicken – and it’s not long before she graduates on to the hard stuff.
‘Raw’ is a film with things to say about body image, finding your identity as a woman and adapting to life as a grown-up. And vet college, it turns out, is the perfect setting for a horror film. Walk into a seminar room and you might see a horse – tranquillised by ketamine – drunkenly thumping to the ground, or dead dogs on concrete slabs ready for dissection class. Ducournau turns even the most innocuous scene into an unnerving endurance test – a Brazilian wax is more gruesome than a hoard of mutant zombies.
Watching ‘Raw’ is a bit like seeing a toddler crawl along a four-lane motorway. You can’t tear your eyes away but at same time you want to squeeze them shut. This is a film that doesn’t just put you through the wringer; it scrapes your insides out and puts them through a spiraliser. It left me feeling queasy and a bit trembly for hours.