Julia Ducournau’s Raw is an intense tale of how suppression and being socially naïve can have powerful ramifications.
The movie focuses on the life of Justine (Garance Marillier), a teenager who lives in a very stringent household. Justine’s life is completely micromanaged by her parents down to the vegetarian meals that she’s allowed to consume. She’s sent off to veterinarian school, which the audience assumes is her first chance at being on her own.That notion is quickly dispelled when we learn her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), is already studying at the same school. Alexia ends up being an asset to Justine as she needs guidance navigating the hazing which comes with being a new freshman in school. Justine is forced to during one of these hazings incidents to eat a raw rabbit kidney which causes her to become very ill and to crave raw meat. She tries to suppress these desires by eating raw chicken breast and shawarma sandwiches but nothing helps. A chain of events begins to unfold that leads to a terrible accident but gives Justine her first chance to devour human flesh. It’s at this point that we realize that things will never be the same going forward.
Marillier delivers a fantastic performance as Justine. If she had just gone for the human flesh nonchalantly, it would have completely transformed Raw into some cheap horror film. Instead, she portrays Justine as conflicted. She knows that her cravings are wrong, but with every chomp of flesh, it seems to make her heart full. Maybe it was the excitement of exploring new desires? Perhaps it was indulging in what is widely considered to be aberrant behavior?
Ducournau certainly went all in on her first feature film. The shots, musical selections, and even the color palate of the film were all meant to be extreme and to shake the audience’s senses. The cheesy harpsichord music and pulse-pounding score created the right mood for this picture. She even made sure that the colors of the raw chicken, rabbit kidney, and the human blood was bright, bold, and even slightly alluring. Her use of handheld shots enhanced the visual imagery and, of course, made the audience that much more uncomfortable.
Ducournau constructed this narrative to show the psychology behind a woman trying to rationalize her unnatural desires. At various moments we witness Justine grappling with these urges and see a range of emotion wash over her face. A part of her understands that what she craves is vile, but she can’t deny the happiness each bite of human flesh brings her. It’s these moments of conflict, turmoil, and striving for societal acceptance that take this film out of the category of just a horror film do more of an extraordinary film.
A lot of the hype behind this film has been completely misleading. It has been widely reported that audience members were either fainting or throwing up in the middle of the screenings. Some theaters have even issued barf bags to the audience as they walk in creating the perception that this film is nothing but a blood and guts fest. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While Raw certainly has its moments of gore, the film is a gripping tale of a woman whose every move has been micromanaged growing up, and that has made her socially inept. The film is French and has subtitles, so that may be a turnoff to some people. If this weekend you are willing to give a film a chance, Raw should be your #1 choice.