Monday 26 April 2021


Newly released on blu-ray this week is Julia Ducournau's French cannibalistic horror Raw. As young student Justine (Garance Marillier) attends her first week of veterinary school, she encounters a series of cruel initiations enacted by the older students - including her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf) - from having their dormitories raided and mattresses tossed out of the windows to being doused in blood for their class photo and forced to eat raw meat in the form of a piece of rabbit kidney. A lifelong vegetarian, this first taste of flesh opens up an unexpected hunger in Justine she hasn't felt before, nor does she know how to control.

If you missed Raw's original cinematic run or are just eager for a second bite, now is the time to invest in one of the most original, shocking and memorable horror debuts of the last decade. A sublime mix of gruesome body horror and a dry commentary on a whole host of topics, from female sexuality, vegetarianism and complicated family dynamics, Julia Ducournau's film stars Garance Marillier as the unassuming veterinary student Justine, away from home for the first time to study at the same institution her sister attends and where her parents first met. Along with her gay roommate Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella) she must contend with the cruel, demeaning initiations that come with 'rush week', made all the worse that one of the main instigators is the one person she thought would be looking out for her, her older sister Alexia.

It's this unstable bond between Justine and Alexia, as well as Justine's reckoning with her newfound desire for meat, that drives the film's story. Given the easy parallel with the teen werewolf classic Ginger Snaps, it might surprise you that Raw steers clear of the monster movie leanings of lycanthropes and vampires, instead delivering a story of hunger that - although hopefully unlikely - could be set in our world. As she and her fellow newbies are treated like lower class citizens by the year above (if they dare to make eye contact with them, they could be punished into wearing a diaper to class), it's an endless week of cattle dissections and all-night partying at the local morgue, but still disconcertingly recognisable to anyone who's been through a university freshers week.

There are many outstanding moments in Raw that have an incredible ability to shock the audience, even on a re-watch. For example, a brutal bikini waxing scene starts off uncomfortably enough, but then delivers a graphic slice of nerve-tightening horror before capping it off with one of the most jaw-dropping moments in modern horror cinema. Even seeing it a second time, I felt my stomach begin to churn. It's gross, it's hilarious, it's brilliantly directed with a fantastically gothic music sting... it truly needs to be seen to be believed. As the attempted bikini wax scene will prove, Raw is at its strongest when it leans into the horrors of being a young woman. Justine is guided into a more sexualised version of herself by her sister Alexia, who wants to show her a way to survive by giving her dresses, plucking her eyebrows, telling her to shave her armpits and (regretfully) offering to give her her first waxing. Justine's insatiable appetite for meat is closely tied to her sexuality, and as she stares at the back of roommate Adrien's neck, you're not sure whether she wants to devour him, sleep with him, or both. 

The latest of Second Sight's special edition releases to come in a display worthy boxset (or 'rigid slipcase', if you prefer) following hot on the heels of the incredible Dawn of the Dead boxset and the new editions of World on a Wire and Revenge, it's a great package that gives the film the attention it deserves with plenty to sink your teeth into. Some of the special features feature the work of horror scholar Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who's contributed a video essay dissecting some of the themes of the film and features in an interview segment with director Julia Ducournau, and there's also new essays from Emma Westwood (who also has a commentary alongside Ducournau) and Little White Lies' Hannah Woodhead.

Shocking but with a pitch black sense of humour, Julia Ducournau's Raw is an easy film to whole-spleengutsandheartedly recommend to those with a strong constitution. The three core cast members (Marillier, Rumpf and Oufella) deliver great performances, with Marillier in particular standing out as one to watch out for in the future. Its gorier moments won't be for everyone, but if you have a refined cinematic palate and can appreciate how truly great horror cinema can push boundaries, Raw is a film you should feast your eyes on.




The Girl Can't Help It: a new interview with Actor Garance Marillier

- Making Ends Meat: a new interview with Producer Jean des Forets

- New audio commentary by film critic Alexandra West

- Audio Commentary with Julia Ducournau and film critic Emma Westwood

- In the Name of Raw: an interview with Director Julia Ducournau

- A Family Affair: a new video essay by film critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

- Raw À Votre Goût featurette with Julia Ducournau & film critic Emma Westwood 

- Quick Bites with Julia Ducournau & film critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas 

- Genre Matters Panel Discussion

- Australian Premiere Introduction

- Australian Premiere Q&A with Julia Ducournau and Kier-La Janisse

- Alternative opening, deleted scenes, trailers


Rigid slipcase 

- Perfect-bound booklet with new essays by Hannah Woodhead and Emma Westwood plus interview with Julia Ducournau by Lou Thomas

- 3 collectors' art cards

Wednesday 21 April 2021


Successful indie filmmaker Allison (Aubrey Plaza), visits a lakeside cabin owned by married couple Gabe and Blair (Sarah Gadon and Christopher Abbott) for some relaxation whilst she works on her latest script. As they all sit down for dinner together and the tensions between musician Gabe and his pregnant wife Blair start to flare up, heated conversation turns into bitter accusations of infidelity, and a shift in their dynamics reveals the full extent of who is lying to us and their motivations for doing so.

The second feature film of Lawrence Michael Levine (after his 2014 debut Wild Canaries, starring Alia Shawkat, Jason Ritter and himself), Black Bear arrives with some fanfare after its debut at last year's Sundance, and not without justification. A sexually charged mystery with layers of intrigue and a 180 turn you won't predict, what stands out most in need of praise are the performances, in particular Plaza as the manipulative and - at least on some level - deceitful Allison. She is the most forthright and abrasive character of the core trio, seemingly unconcerned about how her actions would effect the pregnant Blair, holding information back to toy with her host and paint a different picture of herself, before the second portion of the film shows that Allison's not the only one who's capable of plotting a story for her own amusement.

In a cast that comes pre-loaded with indie cred, alongside Plaza is Christopher Abbott, increasingly headed towards major stardom after impressive turns in It Comes At Night, Piercing and this year's Possessor. His character is selfish, obnoxious and manipulative of the two women he shares the cabin with, failing to hide his misogyny and true personality (plus defects) to them, and us, blaming feminism for the decline of the traditional American family and the rise of nationalism. It's these ideas of duplicity and performance that are at the heart of the film, none more so in the stand-out performance of Plaza as a woman pushed to her emotional limits by the cruel, callous, deceptive acts of an other. 

Once the power structure in the film flips on its head and destructive domestic disputes suddenly spill out for all present to see, both Plaza and writer/director Levine are on record that this takes inspiration from real life experiences both have faced when working on film sets with respective partners, asking important questions about how far boundaries can be pushed in the creation of art, and the emotional toil actors - willingly or not - will go through in the pursuit of a believable performance. If you're aware of the cruel treatment of Shelley Duvall on the set of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining that lead to her abandoning her acting career, think along those lines.

To say much more about the film's second mode would be a spoiler for what is a genuinely surprising and intriguing set-up, but I will say that the way Black Bear shifts the direction of its story after the conclusion of the first chapter brings to mind David Lynch's Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway, whilst also staying more grounded in reality than those two. It's a film that ably injects real tension between its characters in its first half via a flirty foxtrot, then twists the narrative into something that is recognisable but different from before in order to allow its cast to show what they're capable of in a world that is both more farcical but troubling. It's an often tough, harrowing watch, but given the layer of artifice that's built into the film's narrative there's an ever-present distance as an audience that's hard to shake. As such, it's near impossible to provide a wholly satisfying narrative conclusion, but it's the performances (chiefly that of Plaza) that will stay with you long after the film has wrapped.