RAW: Bite into a bloody good chunk of horror comedy
The film Raw is a rare one (pun intended.) How often does a director manage to make a meal out of horror, comedy and drama, all in one sitting – and on her first attempt?
Such is Julia Ducournau’s first feature film, which has so far taken prizes at Cannes and the BFI London, as well as putting her on Variety’s 2017 ‘Directors to Watch.’ The movie follows nervous vegetarian Justine (an absolute blinder from Garance Marillier) who coming from a family of vets and vegetarians, is horrified that as part of a ‘hazing’ ritual at med school, she has to eat a raw kidney. Encouraged by her older sister, who has strayed from her own principles, Justine eats meat for the first time – and soon there are terrible consequences as her true self emerges.
“I did not write and direct this movie to scare people. To disturb them, to make them squirm, yes – to make them question themselves for sure but not to scare them." Julia Ducournau
Don’t buy into the headlines that say Raw has sent people stumbling out of cinemas to be sick – valuable though that publicity is in getting an audience who want to be shocked. Indeed, if you go expecting horror, you’re going to be disappointed, as Julia points out herself:
“I don’t think it’s a horror really at all – and I am a very big horror fan. I watched horror movies all my life, and what I seek in a horror film is to be scared, I really want to jump off my seat – I want to be yelling in the theatre and have nightmares.
“I did not write and direct this movie to scare people. To disturb them, to make them squirm, yes – to make them question themselves for sure but not to scare them. I don’t play on fear in the directing. It’s a crossover between comedy, drama and ‘body’ horror. And then there’s cannibalism which is a sub, sub genre of horror itself.”
That, she says, is where the comedy comes in, “because a character I can laugh with from the beginning will probably have my empathy until the end. I worked very hard on creating the laughter with Justine, rather than at her. And you can’t separate drama from laughter, because they need each other to co-exist. Laughter at the start of a scene puts you at ease, and allows trauma to erupt as an element of surprise.”
"It's not the story of a girl who eats men..."
After studying screenwriting at film school, her first short, Junior, was accepted at Cannes in 2011. Then came three years of writing RAW. There’s no escaping it – writing a film, she says, “is hard work. Three years is what to took to give my script coherency. I wanted all my genres to mix in a way that become a unified language, I didn’t want three movies in one. I had to build up a core of empathy for Justine, that was absolutely essential, otherwise when things start happening, you’d just have a ‘WTF, she’s just crazy’ moment.”
As Justine is eighteen, Coming-of-age and burgeoning sexuality are also part of Raw but ( SPOILER ALERT) “it’s not the story of a girl who eats men. Her desire for human flesh triggers her sexuality, not the other way round. Her first victim, in a way, is her sister – her sister’s obvious femininity is so appealing to Justine that she wants to eat a part of her. And many tribes have, throughout history, eaten other humans whose attributes we want to share.”
"Seriously, if you think my film is gory, go read the Bible. Everything ends up in blood." Julia Ducournau
Humanity’s inherent animality, and how disturbed we are about that, is something that fascinates Julia Ducournau.
“You know I had a very classical education, and to write RAW, I went back to a lot of founding texts. If you think of the Bible, if you think of Greek myths, if you think of the way Caravaggio portrayed them – they are so violent. Seriously, if you think my film is gory, go read the Bible. Everything ends up in blood.
“These images are too close to us, they talk in an archaic way about the dawn of humanity and they make people very uneasy. Just think of what we say to babies, “oh, I could eat you.” You see? It’s so close to us that we have to push it far, far away.”
Raw is released in the UK and Ireland on April 7, 2017. For more release dates, see imdb.com or visit rawthefilm.co.uk