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Raw (2016) Is A Frenetic & Carefully Intense Coming-Of-Age Cannibal Tale

A first year veterinary student and staunch vegetarian awakes a particular hunger after one of her school's hazing practices.

Written and directed by Julia Ducournau

The first thing that struck me about Raw was how the meek protagonist Justine (Garance Marillier) reacts in two pertinent scenes; one demonstrating a deep aversion to meat while dining with her parents and the other, a disorienting hazing practice inflicted on all the vet school newcomers that are just settling into their dorms. Seeing the latter educational enclave through Justine's lens is stifling and unpleasant, while those who surround her are fervently enthusiastic and arguably numb. Justine begins smothered, an outsider, challenged, without much support from her indoctrinated older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) who has already passed this school's Stepford test.

Justine's resistance plays on throughout the film. She's mostly a rebel of sorts but one particular act of giving in only magnifies her outcast status and changes her relationship with Alexia. The entirety of their experience that we're allowed to witness simultaneously brings them together and viscerally tears them a part. So the comparisons of the now classic Ginger Snaps (2000) that I've seen ruminating around the web are not at all inaccurate. Justine's hunger is her awakening, a budding evolution of her own womanhood that would surface even if she wanted to fight it. Raw is both sensationally natural in its use of our primal urges and supernatural in how we speculate a bleak evolution of those urges.

I loved this movie. There's no other way I want to describe my general assessment. Raw is a perfectly crafted muddle of relationship and power dynamics, both familial and institutional, placing a young woman's coming-of-age story inside of those large structures that I feel just about everyone can relate to. Marillier and Rumpf belt out performances that cut through the terrains of human emotion under the extreme duress of bonding, shock, and betrayal. As far as my Fantastic Fest film viewing experience, this was my most enjoyable and delightful surprise for a film that wasn't on my immediate radar. Raw is both endearing and brutal with Ducourau's masterful character development and visceral pleasures.

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