Thursday, November 24, 2016

MonsterFest 2016.01: Raw

G'day from Melbourne, where I'm attending the MonsterFest film festival. Sure, it may seem like a strange thing for an American whose family doesn't live that far away to do for Thanksgiving weekend, but many members of that family tend to spend the day with their in-laws, or make other plans that leave me trying to work around. So, instead, when I got an email about this festival, I figured why not take that vacation I always need to use by the end of the year in someplace warm this time? So I'll be spending the next few days here:

That's the Lido Cinema in Hawthorn, not quite central Melbourne but pretty easily accessible via the Metro, and home to a four-day festival of horror and other genre pictures that started out as a showcase for a distributor but is growing to something more impressive. It's a fancy-ish theater with a bar and decent snacks, reasonably comfortable seats, and some interesting rooms I'm looking forward to seeing later.

Opening night was Raw, a pretty darn good cannibal coming-of-age movie that will apparently be getting a US release in March 2017. Unfortunately, they took phones at the start, meaning I can't show any images from Julia Ducournau's lengthy Q&A, which is a shame, because she was wearing some great horror-inspired jewelry and was really kind of delightful in how she answered some questions, including getting kind of uncomfortable when a guy used the word "erotic" about a dozen times to describe a movie that she sees as being about sisters.

Anyway, Day 1 of a festival is easy. Day 2 has four features and a package of shorts, so don't expect that to be a next-day thing.

Grave (Raw)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2016 in Lido Cinemas #1 (MonsterFest, DCP)

There's a last-scene reveal to Raw that, as well-done as it is, seems to run counter to the way the rest of the film works: If this is meant to shock and surprise, then why has everything else been so casual, so willing to play the horror as something that is simply not spoken about between the characters? It's an indecisiveness that often frustrates, because writer/director Julia Ducournau often seems to be onto something great with her horrific twist on the coming-of-age story.

The young lady coming of age is Justine (Garance Marillier), about seventeen and looking younger than many of her incoming classmates at a French veterinary college. She'll be joining her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) there, although Alex hasn't had much contact with her family since starting school. She quickly makes friends with roommate Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella), although she doesn't expect the level of hazing that she's in for, with the first night culminating in being forced to eat raw rabbit kidneys. That's gross enough even before considering that the girls' parents (Laurent Lucas & Joana Preiss) raised them as strict vegetarians - and it soon seems that this first taste of flesh is kickstarting far stronger urges in Justine.

Yes, those cravings wind up going about where you'd expect, directly enough that it's good to see that Ducournau is good with a gross-out. Excellent, really, building up with moments that almost chastise the audience for being squeamish - bikini waxes and biology classes may make one wince, but they're not really perverse - and then getting the absolute most out of some gruesome practical effects. She doesn't pile on nastiness just for the sake of it - there seems to be a very purposeful escalation each time that reflects what is going on with Justine, and once the audience is acclimated, any sort of closeness or intimacy becomes suspect.

Full review on EFC.

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