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Julia Ducournau’s arty horror/coming-of-age film finds power and desire in a teenage girl’s cannibalism

A new taste: Justine (Garance Marillier)
A new taste: Justine (Garance Marillier)

In the French film, Raw, teenage Justine (Garance Marillier) is following the family tradition by attending a veterinarian medical school, just like her parents did and her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), currently does. A featureless clump of buildings in the countryside hides the outrageous goings-on at the school, including druggy parties, casual hookups and, with seemingly no adult supervision, an intensive program of hazing for “rookies.” 

As part of the hazing, Justine, who is an avowed vegetarian, is forced — by her own veggie sister! — to eat a portion of rabbit kidney. This transgression proves to have bizarre consequences. It awakens in her an insatiable hunger — for food, specifically meat. But a cooked burger patty isn’t as good as a raw chicken breast, and neither is as satisfying as human flesh.

She also suffers night sweats and has a terrible rash, but on the upside, Justine’s “blossoming” allows her to develop a better relationship with Alexia, who provides some highly specialized tricks for better living.

Writer/director Julia Ducournau’s arty horror/coming-of-age film takes viewers along for Justine’s descent-slash-awakening into the carnal. It’s not just her newfound taste for cannibalism that has her writhing at night, but also a new sexual hunger. For Justine, her embrace of the forbidden is a heady mélange of meat, sex and power. She stalks the vet school, in an ill-fitting cocktail dress with fresh blood smeared on her winsome pixie-ish face, recalling the fetishization of female desire and power in other dreamy horror films such as The Hunger. The film, which is not without moments of dark comedy, also explicitly tips its hat to Carrie.

Some warnings for viewers: This is more of a languid European arthouse film, with horror and gore elements, than a standard slash-and-shriek bloodbath. But deliver it does: It’s unnerving throughout, and some scenes are viscerally disturbing. (The sound of a finger being chewed!) And to that end, the sensitive should just assume at least half-a-dozen trigger warnings, ranging from rough sex and flesh-eating to Brazilian waxing and dissecting animals.

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