French director Julia Ducournau may have one of the edgiest gross-out minds in cinema, but that doesn’t mean she delights in the fact that her debut film, Raw, has made some audience members physically ill. At a party the day after Raw screened at the Toronto International Film Festival — where there were reports that at least two audience members were treated by paramedics following the film’s graphic depictions of cannibalism — Ducournau said this wasn’t the first time her movie has made someone retch or faint.
“One of my friends passed out at the screening in Paris,” she said. “I apologized afterward. I don’t feel like it’s a compliment that people are passing out. I feel guilty!” That comment should also sufficiently put to rest rumors that the faintings were staged for publicity — something that some outlets initially claimed before ultimately issuing a correction.
A surprising and complex coming-of-age tale, Raw follows 16-year-old Justine (Garance Marillier), a strict vegetarian, into her first year of veterinary school. When she’s forced to eat raw rabbit during the school’s vicious mandatory hazing, something feral awakens in her, as do escalating flesh-based dietary needs. In the scene that prompted the multiple faintings, Justine has moved on from vegetables to devouring human appendages in very graphic and realistic fashion. It’s like the ear scene from Reservoir Dogs, except that when you watch it again, it really is as excruciating as you remembered.
At the TIFF screening, two people were seen being tended to by paramedics in the lobby, with an ambulance arriving toward the end of the film. “I heard a third person passed out but I wasn’t there for that,” said Sara Sampson, a press representative for the film. Sampson tells me that one guy in his 20s got dizzy and when he left, started to pass out, and hit his head on the wall. The other guy, who was a TIFF volunteer, started making gagging noises and also had to flee his seat. (A friend who’d seen the movie at Cannes told me that at her screening an entire row of elderly people got up and walked out at once.) Press agent Ryan Werner said he hadn’t seen such a visceral reaction to a film since Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, while the manager of the Midnight Madness screenings proudly declared that Raw had bested the previous (anecdotal) record for walkouts and fainting set three years ago by Eli Roth’s cannibal movie The Green Inferno.
Despite the film’s grisly reputation, there’s been near-universal praise from everyone who’s managed to last till the end credits. Raw comes to Austin’s Fantastic Fest next week, and to a theater near you next year. So eat light and enjoy all that cringe-y cinematic deliciousness with some fava beans and a nice glass of Chianti.