By: Heather Seebach
In conversation, the word "raw" tends to precede one of two words: meat and sexuality. So it is an apt title for Julia Ducournau's coming-of-age cannibal film that explores the connection between the carnal and the carnivorous. This French-Belgian movie garnered quite a reputation after a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, during which numerous attendees passed out and required medical attention. While I did not lose consciousness at any time during the film - and cannot imagine why anyone would unless there were unrelated physiological influences - Raw is still a fantastic horror tale worth watching.
Justine (Garance Marillier) is a first-year veterinary student away from her family at college for the first time. The freshmen are forced to undergo a series of hazing rituals, including the consumption of raw rabbit liver, which is a particular problem for Justine as she comes from a family of strict vegetarians. Peer pressure ultimately wins, and her eating of the meat unlocks something unexpected inside her. Justine starts to crave meat, which gradually evolves into a ravenous desire for human flesh. Her insatiable hunger - combined with the hedonistic tendencies of the college students around her - slowly transforms the once-shy girl into a lustful animal.
The timing of Justine's transformation is key, as it aligns with a period of sexual awakening for many young women: college. She is exposed for the first time to parties, alcohol, and unbridled sexuality. Her initial college experience is a familiar one to many girls: struggling with classes; wanting to fit in; falling for a boy; drinking too much, etc. When she arrives at the school, she is guided by her older, much wilder sister Alex (Ella Rumpf) with whom she has a complicated relationship - one that most younger siblings will recognize. Their sisterhood - fucked up as it may occasionally be - is one of the film's most compelling elements, and the two young actresses are great.
This is the debut feature film of writer/director Julia Ducournau, from whom we will hopefully be hearing a lot more after this movie. Needless to say, the world needs more women filmmakers, and horror in particular has often benefited from female minds. Much about Raw is expertly done, from the music to the Kubrickian use of camera and color. The film is intense, surprisingly funny, and has just the right about of mystery. Given all the Toronto hype, it was not nearly as gory as I expected, but between body horror and naturally uncomfortable scenarios, it finds plenty of other ways to make the audience wince.
The Justine-Alex relationship and the general theme of a monstrous sexual awakening will no doubt draw comparisons to the 2000 Canadian werewolf film Ginger Snaps, wherein lyncanthropy is linked to puberty. I was never a big fan of that film, and frankly I think Raw hits the nerve perfectly where Snaps could not. It is everything I wanted that movie to be. As a woman, vegetarian, introvert, and veterinary worker myself, much about this one spoke to me, but you need not be any of those things to appreciate the unnerving, bloody beauty of Raw.
out of 5