Review: Sick, smart ‘Raw’ a cannibal flick with brains

There’s more to ‘Raw’ than just it’s gross-out genre hijinks (although it has plenty of those, too)

Adam Graham, The Detroit News

A young vegetarian develops a taste for meat — and much, much more — in the sick, sharp “Raw,” a cannibalism thriller with plenty of tasty ideas on its mind.

The French-Belgian film has gained a reputation for grossing out audiences since its debut at Cannes last year, and there’s no doubt it’s not for the queasy. But “Raw” has more going for it than its shock/gross-out quotient, unlike many entries in the cannibal genre (i.e. Eli Roth’s “The Green Inferno”), which isn’t known for being provocative beyond its gut-level intentions.

Justine (Garance Marillier in a flooring performance) is a veterinary student enduring hell week hazing rituals during her freshman year at college, where her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is a student, as well. She’s also trying to find herself — emotionally, spiritually and sexually — and writer-director Julia Ducournau treats “Raw” as a frank, if brutal, coming-of-age film.

And then there’s the cannibalism. After ingesting a raw rabbit kidney (yum!), Justine’s hunger for flesh is awakened. It spirals rather quickly, and a scene involving a bikini wax, a pair of scissors and a lopped off finger veers into something strange and twisted and unforgettable. And yes, raw.

Ducournau, 33, is a promising, smart filmmaker with a lot to say, and “Raw” is quite a medium to present her ideas. It’s a deeply conscious film with a serious sicko streak. And Marillier, who recalls Saoirse Ronan, is stunning in a performance that asks her to run the gamut from childlike and naive to flesh-eating bloodsucker. It’s a performance you won’t forget in a movie you won’t be able to purge from your brain.

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Rated R: for aberrant behavior, bloody and grisly images, strong sexuality, nudity, language and drug use/partying

Running time: 99 minutes