Written and Directed by Julia Ducournau.
Starring Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss, Bouli Lanners, Marion Vernoux, and Jean-Louis Sbille.
When a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her.
You’ve probably seen a coming-of-age story before, now try watching a coming-of-cannibalism arc. However, to be honest, it is frustrating and unfortunate that French-Belgium production Raw has garnered massive notoriety due to a select few film festival moviegoers fainting from the all-out horrific body horror; it’s misrepresentative to the film’s true nature. It’s not some tacky gross-out experience devoid of any substance, but rather a stylistic terror tale of finding one’s own identity, blended with scenes of fingers being eaten like Buffalo Wild Wings. Dinner is served and Raw is one tasty cinematic cuisine… (I apologize for writing something so cheesy).
Making her directorial debut, French-born Julia Ducournau (working double duty as the script writer) reveals a firm grasp on artistic cinematic techniques (there’s a claustrophobic veterinarian college campus party-rager near the beginning, containing an impressive lengthy tracking shot that captures numerous bodies in its frame while eliciting an authentic atmosphere), but is also drawing inspiration from classic works of horror. An early hazing ritual (Sidenote: who the hell knew veterinarians in training were this volatile and into punishing new recruits) sees copious amounts of blood dumped on Justine (Garance Marillier in her first full-length feature, who delivers a superbly layered performance that flawlessly grips us into her introspective character transformation beat by beat) and her fellow rookies, replicated practically exactly in the same fashion as Carrie‘s iconic heartless bullying moment. Ducournau continues to employ fascinating camerawork in conjunction with cinematographer Ruben Impens, especially during a twist on the old ‘lock two people in a room and force them to make out’ game, which here sees the participating bodies covered head to toe in paint.
Keep in mind, that’s not even the most visually stunning and thematically resonating sexual sequence in the entire movie. Nope, that’s reserved for Justine’ so-called deflowering, which depicts her fully committed to the act equally craving human blood and flesh just as much as the actual sex. It’s simultaneously more fucked up and kinky than both Fifty Shades adaptations combined. Looming over Justine is the fact that she isn’t just undergoing a dietary awakening, but also a sexual one. Both go hand-in-hand to shape, for better or worse, her true form.
Speaking of the dietary changes, Justine’s eating habits are drastically altered when she is forced to eat raw rabbit liver as part of the whacked out hazing going on at the campus. From there, give director Julia Ducournau all the credit from the horror Gods for not taking the shock value route and flipping Raw into a straight-up slasher film regarding insatiable hunger. There’s a build-up to the actual cannibalism, and even then, the film isn’t turning her character into a cliché predatory archetype. Justine fights the craving as much as possible, also confiding in her sister about the dilemma. The two siblings also have an interesting relationship showcasing loyalty to one another, even when surrounded by jealousy and competition. Family dynamics are another important theme in Raw, but it’s something best left undisclosed as not to enter spoiler territory. Furthermore, by showing restraint, when there are some disturbingly graphic sights on-screen, it lands that much more (probably why those aforementioned festival goers passed out).
There seemingly is also some relevant commentary on the ongoing debate between animal rights. To Justine’s surprise, most of the students are comfortable eating various sorts of meat, which is against her ethics. She’s been raised that way from birth. However, perhaps one of the most striking images in Raw is her basically being physically restrained from doing further harm to another character, as if she were indeed an animal. Adding more ingredients to this juxtaposition between humans and animals are some hallucinogenic shots and random scenes of animals, rounding out the more artistic and abstract ambitions of the project.
All praise for the storytelling and direction aside, the meatiest portion of Raw comes from Garance Marillier, expressing a multitude of personality shifts as she comes to terms with herself in more ways than one. Whether she’s being hazed, partying, feasting on flesh, or vampirically biting her own arm for blood during intercourse (it’s one of the most unforgettable sex scenes in film history), she draws us into her plight. She even just looks the part to perfection; young, socially awkward, and naive on one fucked up path of self-discovery. Raw is well done; a little too artistic occasionally, but overall a delicious first impression from director Julia Ducournau that should make a star out of its lead actress. It’s also going to completely disgust you, and that’s a high compliment.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★