Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Raw – a triumph of prosthetic make-up over good taste and fleshy desires

I’m never going to be a good judge of horror. It’s not my taste in cinema. But new release Raw – the product of French director and screenwriter Julia Ducournau’s gory imagination – strangely falls between stools: I neither found it a breathtakingly scary horror flick, nor was it incredibly clever with a nimble plot that shone light on some facet of life.

The daughter of two vets, young Justine (played by Garance Marillier) was raised a vegetarian and avoided developing a taste for meat until she enrolled at the veterinary college that her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) already attended.

The anxious fresher is perturbed by the histrionic initiation ceremonies that overshadow her first week in college. Senior students are seen to pass on the hazing rituals they experienced, with teaching staff clearly aware but not intervening. Rabah Nait Oufella plays Justine’s gay-with-benefits room mate.

But this isn’t a film about student bullying and institutional blindness. Nor is it an examination of youthful anxiety. Nor a treatise on fluid sexual identity. Instead it’s a fantasy horror built around cannibalism.
“You taste like curry”

Justine’s involuntary consumption of raw meat triggers both a physical and a mental reaction, and the film documents the cultivation of her new sense of taste and fleshy desires.

Throw in some sibling rivalry, a pissing contest, live cattle in a lecture theatre, animal dissection, and the realisation that some of the worst disorders might be inherited.
“An animal that has tasted human flesh isn’t safe.”

When the soundtrack fills with dance music, you know that no matter the sinking feeling in your gut, there’s nothing to be frightened by. But when the string quartet and piano emerges in the sound mix, it’s time to swallow hard and accept the next gory course being served up on-screen. Watch out for a waxing incident that will certainly make you involuntarily cross your legs.

The most bloody reveal near the end is unexpectedly funny. Not really laughing in a nervous sense of relief. Yet not exactly biting wit (if you excuse the pun), and certainly not enough to make it a black comedy. The final couple of scenes bring the film to a gentle if unsatisfactory conclusion that wraps up the story a little too cleanly.

Ultimately, Raw’s horror is served pretty rare, with the blood still dropping. While it’s good fodder for chewing over, it’s not terribly filling and left me hungry and certainly not queasy. Issues of identity and image are hinted at but nipped in the bud before they can blossom. If there is deeper meaning amongst the gore, it passed me by and left me marvelling instead at the prosthetic make-up.

Raw is being screened at the Queen’s Film Theatre from Friday 28 April, as well as many other local cinemas.

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