Raw Movie Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Released by Focus Features
Written and directed by Julia Ducournau
2017, 98 minutes, Not Rated
Released on March 10th, 2017
Garance Marillier as Justine
Ella Rumpf as Alexia
Rabah Nait Oufella as Adrian
My first few encounters with the film Raw came in the form of articles stating that it had made people faint at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016. Back in the day, I would’ve been excited about this, but now I’m a jaded horror lover and that jadedness kept me safe from developing any expectations. Now that I’ve seen Raw, which is a bizarre, entertaining cannibal flick that feels like an art film wrapped in a horror story with a sprinkling of family drama, I can tell you this: anyone who fainted while watching this would probably de driven to suicide by the emotional turmoil and carnage presented in The Lion King.
Justine is a hardcore vegetarian who has just been accepted into veterinary school, where her older sister is already enrolled. Instead of the purely academic world she expected, she finds herself in the middle of a decadent, chaotic, cruel place where a long hazing process takes up the entire first week of classes. As part of the hazing, she gives in and swallows a raw rabbit organ. After she develops a strange, painful rash over most of her body, Justine visits the school’s doctor, but the redness and itchiness on her skin are only the first of a series of changes that alter her life and prevent her from focusing entirely on academic work. Soon there is a hunger inside her that can’t be satisfied, and when she accidentally cuts her sister’s finger off with a pair of scissors, a simple act will open her eyes to the depth and seriousness of the things she is feeling, and what they mean for her as a human.
Raw is a strange hybrid that’s part a drama about two sisters coping with what they are, a study of those feelings of alienation that everyone has when they start college, and a horror tale about a woman who, despite all her conscious efforts to be the exact opposite, is inhabited by a hunger that makes her a monster. The film masterfully sets a creepy atmosphere early on and maintains it until the end. In the first third of the film, even before anything strange has happened, there is a scene where they sedate a horse and turn it upside down in a harness during a class. Nothing happens, but the atmosphere is already so creepy and tense, I kept expecting something bizarre to go down. The feelings of creepiness and the eerie air of Raw are heightened by a nice score and a gloomy lighting that’s used in almost all scenes.
As a movie that allegedly made people faint, the gore is something we need to address. There is a good level of it here, along with some very well made special effects and makeup. Outside of that, there is nothing that you won’t find in a million other horror movies. In fact, there are tons of mediocre zombie and slasher films that deliver much more gut-churning content. That being said, the situations presented in Raw can be seen as “stronger” than those shown in other films because the two main characters are related. This is not a critique: what I’m saying is that blood and guts everywhere does not equal impact, and that a few well-placed bites or a single finger in the right situation can leave a larger mark on the viewer. Take note, horror directors, authors, and screenwriters.
Raw is unique in the sense that it seems more concerned with the psychology of its characters, the effect of what’s going on, and atmosphere than the horrific aspects of craving human flesh. In fact, there are plenty of scenes, especially during parties, where, instead of reminding the viewer of the work of classic horror directors, what is seen on screen is reminiscent of the work of Nicolas Winding Refn. The plot is not excellent, but it’s also far from weak. The performances are decent, the camerawork gets the job done, and the music becomes a crucial element almost immediately. In other words, Raw is definitely worth a watch, and it’s one of those rare movies that will almost imperceptibly get under viewers’ skins and pop up in discussions time and again.