'Raw' Combines Coming-Of-Age Drama And Cannibalism Into One Delicious Dish [Fantastic Fest Review]

It's going to be easy to label Raw as a cannibal horror movie. It's simple. It gets the point across. It's a hook to get people in the door. However, director Julia Ducournau's feature debut is about so much more than the consumption of human flesh. It's a coming-of-age drama that truly understands the loneliness of being away from home for the first time. It's a pitch-perfect portrait of the awkward transition into college life. It's a sad and lovely portrait of how siblings are never that far apart, even when there appears to be a great distance between them. Raw is a movie about changes and transitions and settling into being the person you will be for the rest of your life.

And yes, it is also a cannibal horror movie.

Justine (Garance Marillier) is a vegetarian. She's a vegetarian because her parents are vegetarians. And she's about to attend her first year of veterinary school, the same school her parents attended years earlier. Her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) goes there, too. Things get off to a rough start, with Justine and other first-year students being subjected to extensive hazing rituals that involve everything from all-night partying to eating raw rabbit livers. Justine is forced into the latter against her will and it's all downhill from there. Classes are hard. Professors are unforgiving. Friends are in short supply. When Justine isn't contending with intense loneliness and receiving the cold shoulder from her sister, she's getting odd rashes and battling strange cravings that have overtaken her life.

Things get really, really bad.

Just as startling as the bursts of violence that punctuate Raw's plot are the intimate details, the tiny slice-of-life moments that are as uncomfortable as they are relatable. Marillier is a revelation as Justine and her struggle to discover an identity is funny, embarrassing, and mundane in ways that will hit home for everyone and anyone who has moved out of their parents' house. The great strength of Raw is that every choice, even the ones that will turn stomachs, feels rooted in reality. It's all about those little moments – a disquieting conversation with a professor, bad decisions made at a party where the alcohol flows a little too freely, dancing alone in your bedroom while you try out a guise you're too afraid to put on in public. Justine's bumpy voyage of self-discovery is shown in excruciating detail and Marillier captures every emotional hiccup with quiet sadness.

Just as impressive is Rumpf as Alexia, the older sister who had adjusted to life away from home and whose attempts to educate her sibling on the right and wrong ways to survive school. Their dynamic is the crux of the film, especially as Raw slowly reveals itself to be a story about two sisters getting finally getting to know each other as adults rather than as children. Justine and Alexia fight as often as they get along and their clashes capture the honest contradictions that exist between all siblings. Even when you hate them, you love them with all of your heart.

Because the dynamic between these characters feels so lovely and because Ducournau builds such a recognizable and stressful college environment that the horror elements work so well. Eventually, the blood does start flowing (although not in the ways you would expect) and the violence is appropriately grotesque, but it serves the larger themes of the movie. Raw may be shocking, but it isn't interested in shock value. Every torn piece of flesh, every grisly bite wound, is a literal representation of the emotional and mental scars we collect as we grow up. In Ducournau's skillful hands, violence becomes a metaphor for awakenings of all kinds, sexual and emotional and mental.

Raw is funny and sad and sexy and grotesque and moving and troubling and weird. It's a breath of fresh air and it represents the loud and proud arrival of a brilliant new talent in Julia Ducournau. It's one of the most brutally honest and nuanced coming-of-age movies ever made. It's hard to imagine a better final shot in any film I'll watch in 2016, with the accompanying final line of dialogue providing the strangely beautiful and wildly disturbing punchline that you didn't previously realize the movie needed. Raw is one of the best movies of the year./Film Rating: 9 out of 10