“I think I’m strange”
Writer/director Julia Ducournau‘s Raw might be taking the horror world and cinema in general by storm this year, but its success wasn’t simply born out of thin air. Its Cannes-winning feature takes a lot of inspiration from the artist’s Cannes-winning short Junior back in 2011, another story about a young girl’s metamorphosis. Whereas the former deals more in atmosphere, mood, and nuance, however, its predecessor is far more obvious in its machinations. Rather than present its genre-tinged affliction as a genetic aftereffect of sexual awakening, its byproduct of pubescent maturation proves gender-specific instead. Ducournau quite literally depicts thirteen-year old Justine (Garance Marillier) as she moves from larva to butterfly, her pupa stage shown in full via a grotesquely hyperbolic shift through mucus, sweat, and skin.
Rather than nerdy introvert living in the shadow of a popular sibling who came before her, this Justine is a tomboy-ish fringe player engaged with a group of all-male friends who treat her as “one of the guys” while pining over her more attractive and mature sister. Here she’s doing her best not to fall prey to the aesthetic surface appeal of those that her ilk label “sluts” and yet they are all anyone her age craves. Despite being the most interesting girl in school—enough so that Karim (Yacine N’Diaye) makes it a point to stay close and truly care for her wellbeing—she’s ostensibly invisible by comparison to the makeup, breasts, and tight clothing that changes the outside perception of other girls from accepted to desired.
Her transition is dismissed as the stomach flu, but the remnants of her former self that shed onto her bedroom floor beg to differ. We watch as the perception of others onto her drastically alters just as her perception of them does too. A natural makeover renders her unrecognizable overnight—it’s just a removal of pimples and baggy clothes, but you can buy-in nonetheless—to the extent that her very placement within her adolescent hierarchy has veered off course. Friends treat her differently in some aspects but not all, a reality that forces her to readjust what it is she’ll let slide and what she won’t. Justine’s progression forward is linear and literal in its metaphor, the artistic flourish Ducournau adopts on Raw still in its infant stage.
Even so, you can definitely see the beginnings of what that feature delivers. As a stepping-stone Junior is crucial to Ducournau’s cinematic journey, their similarities in content contrasting their differences in orchestration. From this example of show and tell arises her deft handling of showing without telling that sets Raw apart from its contemporaries. Her character’s evolutionary leap expands through an increase in specificity and Ducournau’s relationship with her audience grows more intuitive by letting her imagery speak for itself. So think of this short as a first draft, its literal yet fantastical externalization of what happens to our bodies the broader realization of her theme. Only from here could she begin paring metaphor down to its essence so interpretation can augment any necessary instances of pure illustration.