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Raw

Year: 2016
Production Co: Petit Film
Director: Julia Ducournau
Writer: Julia Ducournau
Cast: Garance Millier, Ella Rumpf

Horror movies shouldn't be exactly pleasant to watch – that's hardly the point – and there are plenty in the genre that are good fun even while decidely unpleasant.

I not only found this movie unpleasant but unsatisfying, one of which probably exacerbated the other and made me wish the whole way through that it would end so I could never think about it again.

If there's any subtext or theme to it, it seems to be about the scary changes and hungers puberty exerts on the young body. It's well worn territory in this genre we've seen a hundred times – Ginger Snaps was an overt parable for the onset of sexual maturity and menstruation, and John Landis himself called An American Werewolf in London'an erection metaphor'.

Justine (Garance Marillier) begins at the same veterinary college where her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) studies a few years ahead of her. It bemused me to think studying veterinary science in suburban France would be like the American college system with students running around half naked, dancing and drinking themsevles stupid, but I went with it.

Part of the festive tradition (along with getting buckets of blood dumped all over them) is a hazing ritual where the new students are forced to swallow the pickled organs of dead animals. As a strict vegetarian like the rest of her family, Justine tries to refuse, but is convinced/pressured to do it.

She goes through a night of feeling sick and then breaks out all over in an ugly, scary rash. The doctor diagnoses food poisoning and Justine tries not to think any more about it.

But a few days later, during a bikini waxing incident with her sister, Alexia's finger is accidentally cut off with a pair of scissors, after which she faints dead away. Instead of calling for help Justine tentatively consumes the finger – it seems something has given her a taste for blood and flesh.

The story doesn't exactly go off the rails at that point – everything that happens in the plot makes sense in and of itself and it certainly contributes to the tale being told and suits the aesthetic in the design and colour palette. It's just that whatever it all adds up to isn't distinct enough to let you really sink your teeth into it (excuse the pun).

You're sure Justine's roomate Adrien will have more to do with the story than he eventually does. When Alexia leaps in front of a car on a lonely country road to cause the driver to crash, apparently so she and Justine can eat him, that doesn't really go anywhere either.

To get wherever it is writer/director Julia Ducournau does want to take you, the path there leads through some genuinely stomach-turning imagery. It's not even about blood and gore (although there's plenty of that) either – at one point the poor heroine throws up a gulletful of tangled hair, retching as she slowly draws slimy strands of it from her throat.

More themes alluding to female sexuality and agency might emerge on a second viewing, but whether you're moved to have one might depend on how fortified your stomach is – certainly don't try and eat anything while you watch it.

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