Raw (2017) Focus World/Horror RT: 99 minutes Rated R (aberrant behavior, bloody and grisly images, strong sexuality, nudity, language, drug use and partying) Director: Julia Ducournau Screenplay: Julia Ducournau Music: Jim Williams Cinematography: Ruben Impens Release date: March 17, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA) Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss, Jean-Louis Sbille. Spoken in French w/English subtitles
Dare I say the French-language horror film Raw is an acquired taste? It is, after all, about cannibalism. No, it’s not a George Romero-like flesh-eating zombie movie- e.g. Night of the Living Dead- or any movie of that ilk for that matter. This one is more grounded in reality making it all the more disturbing a viewing experience. In Raw, cannibalism is a metaphor for a young girl’s sexual awakening. Away from her parents for the first time, 16-year-old Justine (Marillier) gives herself over to pleasures of the flesh for the purposes of consumption rather than sexual satisfaction but one gets the idea that the two things aren’t mutually exclusive in her case. Either way, Raw is one weird flick!
All her life, Justine has been a vegetarian, a lifestyle forced on her by her parents. They drop her off at veterinary school presumably under the watchful eye of her older sister Alexia (Rumpf, Tiger Girl). Like all freshmen, Justine has to endure the week-long initiation process which begins with all “rookies” being doused by blood before having to eat a raw rabbit kidney. Despite her protests, Alexia forces her sister to eat meat for the first time in her life. At that moment, something starts to awaken in Justine. Before long, she’s devouring raw chicken breasts in the middle of the night. When that doesn’t satisfy her new appetites, she goes on the hunt for fresher “meat” with some help from Alexia.
While Raw is certainly grisly and gross, it’s nowhere near as bloody and violent as this week’s bloodbath The Belko Experiment. It has a few squirm-inducing scenes that will surely make some viewers cover their eyes and others run for the exits. For me, it was the animal dissections. I can’t be sure but it looks like they used real dog cadavers. There’s also a scene of a partially consumed human corpse in all its blood-soaked glory. Another memorable moment is an attempt at a bikini wax that goes horribly wrong. It’s gruesome and darkly funny at the same time.
Raw is more than just a horror film. It’s a coming-of-age drama and a celebration of girl power. The latter is no surprise considering that Raw is written and directed by a woman, Julia Ducournau in a stunning feature film debut. The “protagonist” starts off innocent but lets loose once she realizes her true identity and what she really, really wants (please excuse my Spice Girls moment). In her first role in a major film, Marillier (who closely resembles Mia Sara from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) does an amazing job. Her mental deterioration as she falls deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole is very convincingly portrayed. Rumpf is also very good. The two sisters have this symbiotic/adversarial relationship reminiscent of Jeremy Irons and Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers. In fact, Raw is very much like a David Cronenberg movie with its disturbing tone and reliance on body horror.
The cinematography by Ruben Impens is striking, especially in the exterior shots. One gets the idea that this region of France has never seen a sunny day. It’s always gray and cloudy. It gives Raw a bleak and foreboding atmosphere. Impens also makes great use of color and light. The score by Jim Williams is suitably chilling. All of the movie’s visual and aural elements come together beautifully. At times, Raw feels like a hallucination. What’s happening can’t possibly be real, can it?
I can see why Raw received so much praise on the festival circuit. It’s a very unique horror movie. It’s gross, weird and disturbing as hell. It’ll leave many viewers shaken to the core. It will make some viewers barf. A movie as good as Raw restores my faith in the horror genre. It’s so effective I can see an American remake happening at some point in the future. I wonder how multiplex audiences will respond to it. As long as they don’t water it down to a PG-13, I wouldn’t be entirely against it.