Cannibal film Raw is not meant to make you sick, says Julia Ducournau
Many of the headlines about French cannibal film Raw over the past few months have focused on people fainting and being given sick bags.
“That’s a shame,” sighs its director Julia Ducournau as she glances at a recent article about a screening in Los Angeles.
“It clearly doesn’t do justice for my movie, which is not a barf fest. I think it’s very reductive.”
The film, out in the UK this week, tells the story of a vegetarian student, Justine (Garance Marillier), who eats raw meat for the first time during a blood-soaked “hazing ceremony” for new recruits at veterinary school.
Far from making her throw up, the experience leads to a craving for flesh – both animal and human.
The cannibalism scenes in the film were too much for some at the Toronto International Film Festival last year.
It was widely reported at the time that a couple of patrons required medical attention during screening in the festival’s Midnight Madness strand.
“This is where the urban legend started,” says Ducournau, chewing over the incident with the BBC in London some six months later.
The French filmmaker was at the same screening, but says she did not personally see anyone faint. She was told about it after her on-stage Q&A session.
“I was really sorry about these people,” she says. “I think going to the movies should be a celebration. It’s always hard when you have people leaving the party.”
She is keen to put the whole thing into context.
“At film festivals people tend to see a lot of movies during the day and they don’t eat enough, so when you go to a Midnight Madness screening you have to expect this kind of thing.”
She is clearly not happy about the type of headlines the film has been receiving.
“It’s a shame for my work because some people are going to think this movie is too hard core for them and they won’t be able to handle it.
“And some are going to want to see torture porn or a gore fest and they are going to be disappointed. So no-one wins.”
‘Not a horror movie’
Since its premiere at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival almost a year ago, Raw has attracted mostly enthusiastic reviews.
Variety described it as “Suspiria meets Ginger Snaps” and said the gore effects were “so realistic that they are hard to look at”.
However, Ducournau asserts that Raw is not a horror movie.
“As much as I’m a fan of horror movies, I did not write this movie to scare people,” she says.
“It’s a crossover movie for sure between comedy, drama and body horror – that being a sub-genre of horror.”
The first horror film Ducournau ever saw was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper’s 1974 shocker about a family of cannibals.
She was six years old.
“My parents took me to a dinner party and put me in the bedroom in front of cartoons. I changed channels and saw a part of the movie. But I didn’t know what I was looking at.”
She admits she “got bored” and didn’t see the film’s most disturbing scenes. Seeing it years later as a teenager, it had a “traumatic effect” on her.
Now 33, Ducournau is coming to the end of an almost year-long publicity trail for Raw and is writing her next film.
All she will reveal is that it’s “going to be in the same vein – the same mix of genres”.
She’ll doubtless be hoping it won’t generate the same kind of headlines as Raw.
“It’s a shame when I worked so hard to get a balance between genres – and to make it resonate at a human level – to be reduced to a barf bag… but there is nothing I can do about this,” she says.
Isn’t all publicity good publicity?
“As a director, no,” she replies matter-of-factly. “Probably my distributors would say differently.”
Raw is out in UK cinemas 7 April.