There’s a point in Julia Ducournau’s critically acclaimed Raw where most people will probably realise this isn’t your every day, run-of-the-mill, horror movie.
It’s around the time that the film’s central protagonist and first year veterinary school student, Justine, gets her first taste of human flesh via her sister, Alexia’s, recently severed finger.
A vegan prior to starting at the school, a hazing ritual sees the youngster forced to consume meat for the first time, igniting a deep-seated bloodlust within her.
Soon enough she’s chomping down on kebabs, raw chicken and eventually human flesh, whether it’s a car crash victim’s mangled skull, fellow student’s bottom lip or even just a stray limb or two.
Presented in all of it’s glory gory against a backdrop of university life and pulsating hormones, when Raw was first screened there were reports of grown men fainting and sick bags on stand by for some of the film’s more eye-catching moments.
Yet Ducournau’s film underlays proceedings with a dark, twisted, sense of humour with the blood and guts of this extreme tale weaved matter-of-factly into a tale that is as much about a young girl’s journey into adulthood as it is about cannibalism.
Much of that has to do with the fact that, save for the consumption of human flesh, Ducournau’s film is as much a semi-autobiographical work as it is a horror film.
From an early age, the writer and director of Raw was exposed to the more extreme elements of human life via her parents, who both worked as doctors.
“I always heard my parents talk about medicine from an early age, without any taboos. It was part of daily life. My nose was constantly buried in their books,” the filmmaker reveals, recalling one particularly memorable tableau.
“I remember a photo of a young boy with leprosy whose ear had been sewed back on with the aid of leeches! it had a double effect on me: death and decay became normalised, and I became a hypochondriac.”
At one point, Ducournau even considered setting the movie in a medical school rather than veterinary one, but ultimately thought better of it.
“I soon gave up on the idea, it didn’t work. It was too simple; there was no longer a film there,” she explains. “Besides the idea of shooting cadavers the whole time wasn’t inspiring.”
Ducournau was introduced to the horror genre from an early age and while she undoubtedly took some inspiration from it, she’s always had her own unique perspective, informed in no small part by her upbringing.
“I watched my first horror movie when I was 6, by chance. My parents didn’t know anything about it of course. I realised later that I’d seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
“I was intrigued, not at all scared, as if prepared for this kind of image. In fact, Leatherface is portrayed as an artist in his own chamber of horrors.”
“Leatherface is…an artist in his own chamber of horrors”
Ducournau’s matter-of-a-fact approach to the blood and guts of life has also seen Raw earn comparisons with the approach of another auteur of gore, David Cronenberg, and it’s something the French filmmaker readily acknowledges.
“In his films we see a lot of mutilated wounded bodies…it could seem overly violent, but he doesn’t compromise with death. He doesn’t use words, to try and intellectualise or soften it, but images,” Ducournau adds. “It’s very real. I like that.”
Yet as with Cronenberg and Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, the success of Raw hinges on the transformative performance of the film’s central lead, Garance Marillier, an actress crucial to the filmmakers vision for Justine and the story as a whole.
“I really didn’t want a bunch of perfect little girls showing up so I’d stressed the masculine, raw aspect of the character,” she explains.
“She turned up; shy, with the physique of a shrimp but when she started acting her charisma and power knocked us all out.”
It’s something of a master stoke, with Marillier conveying the necessary emotion and confusion of moving from childhood to adulthood against the backdrop of what is essentially a film about cannibalism.
Ducournau insists her film is so much more than that though and loaded is inclined to agree.
“Raw is centred on the construction of identity and moral standards inside a perverted system,” she summates.
More importantly, for horror fans, it also happens to be bloody terrifying.
Raw is in cinemas this Friday.