2016 Certificate: 18

Synopsis

This stunning debut from French writer-director Julia Ducournau centres on Justine (Garance Marillier), a straight-A student and strict vegetarian about to start her first term at the same veterinary school as her estranged, hellraiser sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf). Before she's even had time to unpack, Justine and her fellow new recruits - including gay roommate Adrien (Rabah Naït Oufella) - are thrust into a series of bizarre and extended hazing rituals. They eventually take a strange and terrible toll, as Justine strays from her principles and eats meat - raw rabbit kidney to be exact - for the very first time. It won't be the last...

Director

  • Julia Ducournau

Cast

  • Garance Marillier

  • Ella Rumpf

  • Rabah Nait Oufella

  • Laurent Lucas

  • Joana Preiss

  • Bouli Lanners

Review

With her fiercely ambitious feature debut French writer-director Julia Ducournau makes an attention-grabbing, stomach-turning statement of intent that will affect you and stay with you, uncomfortably so, for quite some time. 

It's a provocative and genuinely disturbing coming-of-age story that boasts striking visual style and a delightfully dark and twisted sense of humour, with Ducournau taking the often disorientating and overwhelming experiences of early-college life and pushing things to grisly, sexually-charged extremes.

When strict, lifelong veggie Justine (newcomer Marillier) arrives for her first term at the veterinary school where her parents (Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss) met and where rebellious, black-sheep older sister Alexia (Rumpf) is already studying, she's plunged - head first - into a world of confusion, forced conformity and fear. 

She's barely had time to blink when an army of balaclava-clad second-years break into her room, chuck her mattress out of the window and welcome her into the first stages of a worryingly over-the-top hazing ritual.

The tipping point comes when Justine is ordered to chow down on raw rabbit kidney and her panicked protests are crushed under the weight of peer pressure. 

This first taste of meat awakens a hidden, primal hunger that can't be sated with lunchroom hamburgers or greasy, truck-stop shawarma, but even before the film fully shows its hand and sexual awakening bleeds skilfully into full-bore cannibal horror there's a relentless and oppressive sense of unease. 

Ducournau possesses a real gift for conjuring up unsettling, creepily memorable imagery. Whether it's during a giant, underground rave dripping with drugs, booze and sex or beforehand when half-dressed teens are made to crawl through a car park on their hands and knees, characters are frequently and effectively made to act like animals. 

And yet there are some wonderfully human moments too. Sure they end up bonding over their shared taste for human flesh, but the increasingly intimate relationship between Justine and big sis Alexia provides genuine warmth. 

It also leads to a blackly comic tour de force involving an impromptu bikini wax, a fiendishly sharp pair of scissors and an inquisitive dog named Quicky.

Andy Psyllides