Cannibalism takes shape in 'Raw.'
Release Date: March 24, 2017
MPAA Rating: R
When a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her.
Ever since it had its premiere at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, the French cannibalism film Raw has been one of the most anticipated horror movies on the schedule. After a long festival run that was highlighted by screenings at Sundance, TIFF, and Fantastic Fest, Rawis finally hitting wide release.
Raw is about a young girl named Justine (Garance Marillier from It’s Not a Cowboy Movie) who is starting her first year at veterinary school. The first year students, or “rookies,” are subjected to hazing and initiation rituals which involve eating raw rabbit kidneys. Justine, a vegetarian, initially declines, but her sister, Alexia (Tiger Girl‘s Ella Rumpf), who is a year older and also at the school, convinces her to consume the animal product. The flesh awakens an insatiable hunger for more in Justine, and after grilling Alexia about it, she learns that the same thing happened to her sister when she ate the rabbit. The hunger that the girls feel is not just for animal meat, though; they crave human flesh, and will go to insane lengths to procure it.
While it’s not quite as disturbing as some of the more extreme modern French horror films like Martyrs or Frontier(s), Raw is a pretty messed up movie. Written and directed by Julia Ducournau (Mange), Raw has a swagger and an attitude about it that just, well, doesn’t care. The best way to describe its style would be David Cronenberg directing the two leads from Ginger Snaps in an Italian cannibalism movie based upon Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction. That pretty much sums up Raw in a nutshell.
Raw is one of those well-paced and carefully crafted movies that, as uncomfortable as it might make them, compels the viewer to keep watching. Or, more accurately, it dares them to. It’s one shocking scene after another, but it’s not just shock for shock’s sake; it’s all pertinent, and even indispensable, to the plot of the film. There are also a ton of whip-smart lines and clever scenes that seem to be throwaways, but are actually integral to the story. Nothing in Raw is unnecessary, nor is it accidental. Ducournau knows what she’s doing, and she does it well.
Now, Raw is not for the squeamish. It tests the boundaries of good taste, then chomps on them and swallows them whole before the viewer even knows what’s happening. But, rather than seeming exploitive, it’s artistic. Call it purposeful tastelessness if you must. But it’s good.
From the very first scene, Raw is full of “Holy Shit!!” and “Don’t Do It!” moments. There aren’t really any jump scares or loudness-oriented freak-outs. Raw isn’t that cheap. Raw relies on pure shock value to scare its audience, and it’s remarkably effective. There’s creepy body horror in the form of rashes and burly hair that plague Justine after she tastes the raw animal meat. There’s also some maddening suspense, such as in a horrifying scene where Justine is hiding under her covers from something, a moment that is eerily reminiscent of the tent/bear scene from Backcountry. Then, there’s just the gross and shocking stuff, images that would lose their visceral impact if spoiled here in this review. While Raw may not be scream-out-loud scary, there’s something in it that is bound to give even the most jaded a viewers a few cases of the willies.