“Raw” Serves Up Deliciously Twisted Horror With A Sensual Coming-Of-Age Bite
A vegetarian is forced into eating meat…that alone would make for a decent horror set-up. Throw cannibalism into the fray? All bets are off.
Up-and-coming French filmmaker Julia Ducournau’s “Raw” has gotten considerable buzz for its twisted concept, and after seeing it, it lives up to the hype as not only a masterclass in horror, but also a striking coming-of-age allegory.
A strict vegetarian, Justine, (Garance Marillier) can’t wait to start school at a top-tier veterinary college. However, while she finds herself flourishing in academics, she starts to buckle under the pressure of intense hazing by the upperclassmen, coming to a head when her older sister (Ella Rumpf) goads her into going through with the grotesque initiation ritual of eating a raw rabbit’s kidney.
Slowly, but surely, she starts to change inside. After a period of sickness, she starts having intense cravings for meat, a craving she starts to realize…is for human.
At its core, “Raw” is about desire, and Garance Marillier’s central performance ends up integral to conveying this. Marillier plays Justine with a wide-eyed naiveté that slowly morphs into something more confident, giving way to a creature reduced simply to her wants.
The slow transition makes Ducournau’s film a gruesome joy to watch, as she parallels Justine’s desire for human flesh with navigating the hard-partying college as she struggles with social awkwardness and a sexual awakening.
Ella Rumpf’s mischievous Alexia provides a strong rival, meshing well with the other elements of the script to create a fascinating character portrait. Particularly, character developments in the latter part in the film for Alexia open up a lot of insight into her and Justine’s relationship that will no doubt get people talking.
But let’s not forget this is a horror film and a terrifying one too.
“Raw” goes to some disturbing places, and Julia Ducourna and cinematographer Ruben Impens relish every opportunity they can to create something (beautifully) visually unsettling.
The almost-ethereal party scenes add to the growing isolation/confusion Justine feels, but it’s really the scenes involving her dabbling in cannibalism and sexuality that give the most to chew on, so to speak.
Both are shot with a brand of voyuerism that makes the sex scenes feel oddly animalistic while sequences involving the cannibalism have a notable tinge of eroticism. This creates a unique unease, as the two are essentially equated as one in the same, and as the audience we’re constantly nervous that any encounter could turn deadly if she gives in to her cannibalism.
Although not scary in the jump scare sense, “Raw” always keeps you on the edge of your seat because of Justine’s visualized struggled for self-control. Equating her desire with the flesh with, well, her desire for the flesh is refreshing, dare I say even energizing in this day and age.
A pitch-perfect soundtrack only cements the daring aesthetic. Jim Williams’s synth-heavy score alone lays the foundation for a strong emotional core for the film, while the appropriation of several licensed songs here is nothing short of ingenious. The Dø’s “Despair, Hangover & Ecstacy” and The Long Blonde’s, “Giddy Stratospheres,” takes the party scenes to another level, creating a hedonistic air of temptation for Justine that feels just as temptatious for to us.
One of the very best scenes in the film involves Orties’s “Plus putes que toutes les putes” playing through Justine’s earbuds as she dances in the mirror, consumed by lust for human meat yet also full of confidence. It’s a perfect moment, one that makes you confused on how to feel, and it wouldn’t anywhere near as poignant without the song underscoring it.
“Raw” is one of those films that will leave you thinking for a long time. Its blend of coming-of-age, sexuality, and cannibalism synthesizes into not only a hell of a good horror, but also a shockingly relatable character study.
Throw in an extremely brave, shocking ending and this is one of the riskiest movies to come out in quite some time. Julia Ducournau has proven herself to be a master filmmaker in her debut, making her one of the select few to nail it right out of the gate.
You might not like “Raw”. You might find it disturbing, gratuitous, or just plain strange. You might not wanna deal with subtitles. No matter what, however, you will never forget it.
For that reason alone, “Raw” is a must-see.