A young girl begins her studies at a prestigious veterinary school that her whole family has attended. She was raised as a vegetarian but is forced to eat raw meat during a hazing ritual at the school. Her body reacts to the meat in an odd way, but now she has had a taste for meat and wants more. Once she gets her first taste of human flesh, there is no going back. From that moment on the girl’s life spirals out of control as her hunger grows.
A young girl coming into adulthood and discovering her own sexuality can be complicated and messy all on it’s own. Add to that a burgeoning hunger for human flesh, and things can escalate quickly. What I most enjoy about this plot is how it amplifies what is a normal coming-of-age story by adding the unique cannibalistic element. This young girl, Justine, is already an outsider because she is younger than her veterinary school peers, and therefore still developing into the woman she will become. She is even more of an outsider once she discovers her own unusual eating habits. Justine is alone and has no one to relate to. Even with her own sister attending the same school, she still has no one she can confide in as she goes through her many changes. This can be seen as a metaphor, as the desire to eat human flesh directly relates to her burgeoning sexual desire. It is very fitting that this film was written and directed by a woman, Julia Ducournau, because this is a theme that can only be accurately conveyed by someone who has experienced the changes a woman goes through. Ducournau’s storytelling makes it so you feel Justine’s isolation and confusion on her journey. As a woman it is impossible not to empathize with her, even with the added oddity of her dietary desires.
Obviously the cannibalism, and how it acts as a metaphor for Justine’s developing sexuality, is the driving force of this story. Yet it is also very much about the relationship between two sisters. While Justine is going through her whirlwind of changes she has her sister, Alexia, as a constant presence. Much of what Justine is going through Alexia has herself experienced, so one would expect Alexia to be her sister’s guide and confidant throughout everything. Unfortunately, their relationship is very much the definition of sibling rivalry. While the two love each other very much, they also hate each other like many sisters do. There is a breaking point in every relationship, and yet again the cannibalism acts as the catalyst that threatens to explode their sisterly bond. Many of the themes in Raw, such as the female journey to adulthood and the sibling relationship, feel reminiscent of one of my favorite horror films, Ginger Snaps
The performances by both sisters are delightful. Garance Marillier (Mange) is absolutely marvelous as Justine. She gives the audience a complete transformation from a naive young girl to a sexual, hungry being in a way that feels natural and somewhat visceral. Marillier also manages to feel like a relatable character throughout her transformation. Considering the more eccentric aspects of her metamorphosis, that is quite a feat. Ella Rumpf (Tiger Girl) acts as an excellent counterpoint to Justine as her sister, Alexia. Alexia’s personality is an interesting juxtaposition compared to Justine’s in how differently she responds to various situations. Rumpf’s performance is surprising on more than one occasion and keeps the audience guessing what she will do next. Marillier and Rumpf together create an extraordinary duo that displays the many facets of human nature.
Raw is a very visually stunning film. Of course it is going to have great practical effects as it is a cannibal film. The practical effects in the cannibal scenes are excellent, but they aren’t quite as over-the-top as much of the early buzz for Raw would suggest. It is surely grotesque, but nothing that horror fans haven’t seen before. While the various gory bits were very well done, I found the practical effects used to create the animals to be especially impressive. Since Justine is in veterinary school she obviously will have to dissect an animal at some point. There is a scene where a dog cadaver is dissected in one of the classes. This dog not only looks real on the outside, but on the inside as well. These effects are great, but I found the cinematography and use of color throughout the film to be the most beautiful aspect of Raw. Many shots are done in such a way where there is chaos concurring all around but your eye still focuses on Justine and the silence within her. These shots are typically used to emphasize her isolation, even when she is surrounded by others. There is also a heavy use of blue and red tones in many scenes. This colors add beauty to scenes that might not otherwise be considered beautiful.
In recent years there has been an increase in horror films that provide an interesting take on the human experience. These films are intelligent, thought provoking, and often times focus on women and the trials they face. Along with the likes of It Follows and The Witch, Raw fits into this unique horror film niche. The coming-of-age story about a girl discovering her sexuality isn’t something one would typically consider horror, but horrific elements are added to the story as a mechanism to exacerbate emotions and events throughout the story. When you add the extra layer of cannibalism to the plot and use it as a metaphor, you get a horror film that forces audiences to see things in a new light. Raw is a beautifully told tale that is gruesome and, as a woman, very familiar. While this might not be what audiences typically expect from a horror film, it is what they should be asking for more of.
OVERALL RATING: 9/10