Before I start this film review, I just need to give a whole hearted thank you to Brad Hanson for hooking me up with tickets at the last minute. Knowing that I was leaving work early to go and see something gnarly made my Monday worth every painstaking second.
When a film is publicised as having induced horrific vomiting sessions and fainting spells during it’s first time screenings, there is no way it wouldn’t immediately go on my ‘to-see’ list. There are few gut wrenchers that have made my stomach see the outside world, so knowing the possibility that it would again was irresistible to me. Nethertheless, when something is deemed too shocking, an air of doubt must always be presented alongside, because we know how much the media loves the hype train. Raw is from French director Julia Ducournau and looks at the after affects on a young and impressionable 16 year old Justine when she becomes submerged in the veterinary student culture. During an intense hazing experience, Justine is forced by her own sister to eat raw meat, even though she has been brought up as a vegetarian. Justine immediately finds herself ostracised for insatiable reasons; desperate to find approval from her peers and partake fully in the wild activities, she feverishly tries to hide her sickening secret, whilst maintaining a strained relationship with her sister and room mate.
Although Raw definitely fits into the horror category, it is actually more of a coming of age tale than anything else. Justine is apprehensive when she first starts veterinary school (a feeling I can completely resonate with – University ended up being living Hell for me) as she’s thrust into a drug and drink fuelled lifestyle at night, and a vicious one by day, as achieving good grades gets you punished rather than rewarded. After swallowing rabbit kidney during an aggressive initiation task from the older peers, she begins to develop an overwhelming desire to devour raw flesh – and not just that of animals. It soon becomes apparent that the naive yet trying Justine, has succumbed to an appetite for cannibalism, and she needs to find a way to please her hunger without feeling cast out of the society she currently resides in.SMXLL
Ducournau beautifully represents the ever growing hunger, desire and passion for another’s flesh when we reach the pubescent age. Although presented to us a cannibalism film, the connotations shown run far deeper than just pure human devouring for the sake of it. When Justine is watching her gay room mate playing football topless, it’s clear that her lust for his skin, for his touch, for his taste is more about the painful need for acceptance by a man, and to feel sexually needed than it is for just his delicious meat. Maybe Raw might have connected with the female audience more so than the male, regardless, I definitely understood the presented battle to feel accepted when becoming a woman and the struggle that happens when you don’t feel attractive. The feelings that come with these stages of womanhood can be crippling, and Raw shows that in a disturbing way.
Justine’s older sister plays a pivotal role in pushing her boundaries, and constantly causes conflict for her as although she desires to be like her sister, there is an ongoing fight between the two to be centre of attention. It’s easy to connect with Justine as a character because she’s presented averagely; she’s pretty and slim, but looks wise she isn’t the usual perfect model we see on screen. Being able to identify with Justine is so important to Raw’s story, because without it we’re just given a cannibal youngster that we don’t empathise with at all. By making us put ourselves into Justine’s position, we start to rationalise her behaviour and see that it’s simply not her fault at all. Ducournau has explained during an interview that “since my characters always feel like monsters deep inside, I wanted the audience to feel like a monster as well, and to understand what she’s doing.” (The Guardian) I can’t talk for the audience as a whole, but I most definitely felt like a monster for feeling sorrow for her.
I could not shake the sense that Raw was a shocking cannibal film that ran much deeper than many of it’s counterparts, which in reflection, bring nothing to the table in terms of meaning. Even though I love the shock factor, gore, nasty and horrific scenes, it was so refreshing to see these elements combined with something that made me take away feelings and thoughts, as well as a little vomit. Certain scenes throughout the film proved far more distressing than others; the horse being sedated was, although completely natural and practiced everyday, quite uncomfortable and upsetting to watch. When Justine starts rabidly scratching at her skin after catching an infection from eating the raw meat, we hear every nail dragging ferociously on her skin which was another moment that made me cringe in my seat. One other scene, which could be considered fairly tame compared to others, was when she started choking up hair from having nervously chewed and swallowed it during a confrontation with her teacher. When I was at school there was always this rumour lurking that if you nibbled on your hair, you’d get a hair ball and choke to death – maybe Ducounau was influenced by said rumour (not sure how she would have picked that up from my hometown secondary school…) and took inspiration, whatever the reason, this scene grossed me out.
Raw is one of the most carefully crafted films I’ve seen recently, which perfectly reflects the struggles of becoming a woman, the battle for attention and that confusing lust which emanates when you’re a teen girl, whilst satisfying the visceral need for horror and gore. It did seem however, that it was leading up to a disturbing and shocking climax, but that moment never arrived and left me feeling a little disappointed. Even though a coming of age tale, it’s still a cannibal film, and when you have such a morally wrong concept, you need to utilise that and give us a bloody nasty climax – one that warrants the supposed fainting and vomiting. With that said, the ending had an intriguing little twist, which wasn’t expected, but for this gore whore, I just needed something really brutal.
Intelligently portraying the hunger, desire and passion for human flesh, in the most unfathomable way possible. Go treat yourself to some Raw!
Verdict: 4 out of 5