Justine (Garance Marillier ) is a first-year veterinary student. Her elder sister (Ella Rump) is studying the same course at the university. Justine was raised a strict vegetarian but, as part of the hazing rituals, is forced to eat meat. Initially this has adverse effects but she soon develops a craving for meat… particularly human flesh. Raw is a clever, disturbing, nasty (in the right way), and expertly shot film. With a strong central performance, and solid supporting cast, and a haunting score, this a film which will leave you wincing and gasping.
Raw begins with a mysterious car crash. A young woman stands in the middle of the road as a car approaches, making no attempts to move out of its way, and causes it to crash head on into a tree. Why has this taken place? Is she suicidal? Are those inside the car dead? Slowly the young woman makes her way towards the car. The camera cuts away before we can see more. The director likes to tease us with imagery, before cutting away. This is something I always admire filmmakers for, because I often find that it allows the viewer’s imagination to fill in the gap.
Don’t be mistaken though, there is plenty of blood, gore and violence on show here. There are moments where one will have to look away in horror and shock; however the film never becomes obsessed with the gore, it’s just a byproduct, a matter of fact if you will. Raw is simply a coming-of-age drama that happens to have moments of gore and violence.
Often, male directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Brian De Palma, seem to relish in the idea of ‘the bloodier the better’, but the female gaze is less about glamorizing the horror aspect. Female directors will often focus more heavily of character development and narrative, rather than just a cheap thrill or scare here and there.
With Raw, we do get moments of pure bloody horror; the sight of a gruesome car crash, a young woman losing her finger and the brief sight of a leg that has been devoured. None of this horror is made to look vivid or comical, or dripping with blood. It all seems real, too real. The subject matter is hard to swallow too (if you will excuse the pun). With this all in mind, the question is, how did you get the audience to side with someone who has a craving for human flesh?
Well, Justine is very much like the character of Carrie, strange and silent with a deadly power inside her that she’s struggling to contain. It’s worth noting that De Palma’s Carrie seems to be the template for the female outsider character, in a similar fashion to how Taxi Driver is the template for the male loner. Justine is weird, out-of-place and disconnected from the rest of her peers. She is the loner who sits at the back of classroom. The one that gets teased, mocked, and tormented. She’s even disliked by one of her teachers. It is for all of these reasons, that the audience cannot help but empathise with her.
The relationship between Justine and her sister is interesting to study, as it seems to be a very realistic depiction of how sisters interact with one and another, such as the name teasing, the comments about each other’s weight, the fights over clothes and the unspeakable bond that you have to stand up for each other and care for one and another even when the other sister annoys you. This is a coming of age drama about finding yourself, but also developing the relationships with your siblings.
Julia Ducournau makes a very compelling comment about the general behaviour of young men and the college campus life (which seems on the surface to be carefree, but is ugly and decadent). The culture of the college seems to be less about studying, and gaining an education and more to do with the activities of drinking, partying and sleeping around.
College culture is presented to us in a nightmarish way, scenes of parties in a morgue and under ground lairs create a sense of being trapped in a culture and a community which is superficial and fake. Is it any wonder, that we almost cheer when character takes a bite out of a young male student when he drunkly makes out with her?
Raw is one of the most compelling, highly original and entertaining horror films that has come out in recent years. It shows the capability of female directors to take on the horror genre and add their own distinct twist. Horror seems to be a genre where women can flourish, where they can embrace their dark side. Films such as The Invitation, American Psycho and The Babdook all showcase their directors ability to take on the horror genre and make it seem fresh and exciting. Too often horror relies on gore, offense and shock to excite audiences (just look at the appalling Saw franchise).
However, with Raw, the horror often comes from a more surreal place and a psychological sense, which the majority of female directors manage to tap into and put across on the screen. The most effective horror is observing the true monstrous nature of human beings, and coming face to face with our flaws, insecurities and doubts.
Like the other three horror films mentioned, Raw addresses the idea that horror comes from a place deep inside ourselves, too often we want to blame an external force (like when character goes to visit the doctor in an attempt to work out what is happening to her), but it’s often something that can’t be controlled. Raw is one of these great films to sink your teeth into, just be wary of watching it on a full stomach.