Raw (2017) by Julia Ducournau
Review by Jessica Carr
“I’m sure you’ll find a solution, honey.”
It starts with a craving. A feeling like something is missing and needs to be fulfilled. Upon first taste, you are addicted and you have to have more. After watching Raw I felt energized. I just survived a French cannibal movie, and I ACTUALLY LIKED IT. There were moments when I was horrified (enough to run out of the auditorium even), but overall it wasn’t nearly as faint-inducing as rumors would have you believe. While I’m drawn to the theory that Raw uses cannibalism as a metaphor for addiction, I also think director Julia Ducournau leaves room for its interpretation as other possibilities like sexual awakening or coming into one’s identity as an adult.
The French horror film follows gifted 16-year-old Justine (Garance Marillier) as she heads to vet school where her older sister also studies. Justine comes from a family where everyone is both a vet and a vegetarian. The beginning of the film shows her traveling to vet school with her frigid parents. It becomes clear that Justine’s mother isn’t the nicest person after she bitches out a cafeteria worker for allowing a piece of meat to get in her daughter’s mashed potatoes. The suffering only amplifies when Justine gets to vet school and is met by hazing rituals. She is awakened in the middle of the night, her mattress is thrown out the window and she is forced to stay awake partying until “the elders” go to bed.
During one hazing ritual, Justine is forced by her sister to eat a raw rabbit kidney. This sparks an allergic reaction involving a very cringe-worthy rash that appears all over Justine’s body. The event also causes Justine to crave meat—doesn’t matter if it is raw or cooked—one scene shows her devouring a raw chicken breast. The cravings only get worse and escalate in probably the most disturbing scene in the whole movie (cue footage of me running out of the auditorium for a split second) where Justine’s sister decides to trim Justine’s pubic hair with scissors. Without giving spoilers, I can say this is the point in the film where Justine tastes human flesh for the first time. It’s a grotesque scene that honestly made me laugh out loud because I was so nervous. The music cue when Justine is consuming the meat is perfect. It is an eerie organ-esque sound that is cued several times in the film.
The score composed by Jim Williams is appropriately chilling. Besides that, there are four songs by various artists on the soundtrack. As Justine is thrown into a party with the other newbies a catchy club song called, “Despair, Hangover & Ecstasy,” permeates while the camera follows Justine bumping and fighting her way through a sweaty drug-dazed crowd. One of the most effectively used songs is also one of the most bizarre. In a scene after Justine gets her first taste, she dances in front of the mirror to a French rap song. The vulgar lyrics are subtitled on the screen as she gyrates her hips and hungrily kisses the mirror.
Throughout the movie, Justine becomes addicted to eating human flesh. And this is an environment that encourages her addiction. She is finally away from her parents and she is allowed to breathe. Then her addiction starts to consume her. Justine’s character starts to evolve from a timid girl to a hungry woman. A scene where Justine loses her virginity shows that she doesn’t want to see anyone hurt by her addiction. She tries to control it, but she doesn’t know that her sister is addicted too. Things start to spiral and the consequences affect everyone. In the final act, Justine learns that she has to repress her hunger and she isn’t the only person. It’s an interesting ending that somehow feels like Justine has become her own person. She is no longer the innocent girl we saw at the beginning of the film. Instead, she knows what it is to want something so bad it consumes you and now she knows how to deal with that.
Ducournau frames Justine in many shots where she is staring hungrily at the camera. It is non-judgmental as it peers at her from across the room slowing zooming as if approaching the hungry cannibal with caution. It is clear that we are not meant to fear Justine, but rather we should empathize with her struggle to control her hunger.
After seeing Raw, there is no way that I can recommend this to just anyone. In fact, even my friends that usually like horror weren’t exactly feeling it. It is an acquired taste that needs to sit well with the viewer. Ducournau creates a debut film that left me hopeful for what woman directors can do in the horror genre. Living in a woman’s body has always created enough material for great horror films and now we have women behind the camera adding triumphant works to the genre.