College sucks for Justine. The seniors are all bullies, the lecturers don't care, her gay roommate doesn't get the whole "sock on the doorknob" thing, her sister ignores her, and then there are these odd new cravings.
In Raw, by writer/director Julia Ducournau, Justine (Garance Marillier) is the shining star student starting at the same veterinary college as her hard-partying sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf). It's pretty clear that the seniors rule the roost here, with hazing and bloody team-building exercises going on under the disinterested gaze of the lecturers. Justine is clearly the fish out of water, but arguably the only one with a pure ethical course: She believes that she is there to save animals, and that includes a determined opposition to eating meat. When extreme peer pressure (much of it from her supposedly supportive sister) forces her to violate that one article of faith, it's a slippery decline.
The initial reaction to Raw is to frame it like a rebirth of the French New Extreme movement of the last decade. Yet, while there are a few moments of gore and guts, there is nothing like the visceral intent of Inside or Martyrs. Instead, first-time director Ducournau is pushing toward a bloodier version of Lindsay Anderson's savage and searing demolition of entitled youth, If . The gruesome elements are coldly, unemotionally portrayed, and in stark contrast to the skull-crushing parties. This is, after all, a rural vet school, a clinical microcosm of the world, where compliance is the only rule, and dissection is just part of life.
Docournau is writing a social treatise, and her target is the desperate urge to fit in, the cost of doing so, and the cost of being an outsider. Wisely, she avoids easy answers, instead pointing to every option being an inevitable error. Her final resolution – arguably the only moment that truly nods to the New Extreme – is a bleak warning that the compromises we make as children will come back to consume us in the end.
Occasionally, it can meander, but at its best and most concise, Ducournau simply leaves the camera and story focusing on the sibling rivalry. Marillier and Rumpf sharing the screen has the air of a young Brie Larson going toe-to-toe with Betty Blue-era Béatrice Dalle, a toughened innocence clashing with fractured superiority. She leaves them to epitomize the betrayals and loyalties that define the most complex and closest of relationships, even unto the bloodiest of crimes.
Either that, or she just really doesn't trust vegetarians.
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