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Raw/Grave

10/10

Stars: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah NaĂŻt Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss, Marianne Vernoux, Thomas Mustin

Director: Julia Ducournau

Grave, the original name of French writer and director Julia DucournauÂ’s extraordinary film debut, is rather less self-explanatory than the English language title.

Fortunately for filmmaker and audience alike, the distributors of this ground-breaking cannibal horror movie have avoided dubbing the French dialogue into American-English (that will doubtless happen when the inevitable but pointless American remake hits the screens in due course – just pray that Tarantino will be otherwise engaged) and settled for subtitles.

UniversalÂ’s praiseworthy decision boats two distinct advantages.

Firstly the key performances make their considerable impact as acted. And secondly, a major advantage for those reviewers who usually consider horror movies as mass market offering, subtitles enable them to consider Grave/Raw as an art movie, and foreign as well, a real critical bargain.

Teenager Marillier, in common with her her parents and sister, is a confirmed vegetarian. Her father and mother are vets, as is sister Rumpf, and Marillier sets out to follow in their footsteps when she starts to study at the same veterinary college as her parents and sisters. There the sleazy and concentrated hazing of the new students – in the best tradition of American college life – makes Marillier’s life hell, especially when she is forced to break her dietary choice and eat a rabbit’s kidney.

Result? She becomes a committed human flesh eater, beginning with her sister’s no-doubt savoury finger – and just to demonstrate that French colleges can give their American counterparts a few more lessons in creepy university life, Marillier ends up befriending her unlikely (imposed on her) male roommate, fellow undergraduate Oufella…

DucournauÂ’s movie is most certainly not for weak-stomached filmgoers.

ItÂ’s all too credible in characterisation, narrative, a mounting sense of tension and fear and in the vivid staging of cannibal excesses but, to its creatorÂ’s considerable credit, it works without resorting to Raimi-style celluloid bloodbaths or the beat-the-censor excesses so many genre filmmakers restort to in order to make a quick buck.

The key performances are sensibly restrained (in contrast to the carefully and all-too-credibly created scenes of carnal horror that reportedly led to frequent vomiting among festival audiences).

In summary, while it may not prove to be a masterpiece, Grave/Raw is indisputably a masterly addition to the horror film genre and proof that, given good scripting, direction, casting and performances, shockers can shock without the crass cutting-edge excesses of, say, the 'Saw' series.

Scads of awards and nominations confirm it.

Alan Frank

France/Belgium 2017. UK Distributor: Universal. Colour.
99 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 18.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 3, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 2, Swearing 3.

Review date: 10 Apr 2017