Warning: Watch On An Empty Stomach
By Jess Bretin
It is a rare thing when a work of art introduces you to an entirely new mood, a combination of “feelings stew” that you’ve never quite tasted before. The indie-esque cinematography of Raw creates an atmosphere that, at times, invites you to sit back and soak in the sensory beauty, but more often, its wide empty shots and eerie music evoke dystopian feelings of desolation. Like many great horror flicks, it generates a healthy amount of anticipatory discomfort, the feeling that something bad is coming. In other words, this film is very much up the “it’s all about the ambiance” alley. Though labeled a coming-of-age horror/drama film, Raw is more accurately described as dystopian gore with supernaturalism and cannibalism at its core. It uses every opportunity to be overtly gross and repulsive yet is strangely erotic at times, a bloodbath of erratic mayhem with the right splash of campy indifference. It represents an exaggerated, somewhat callous society, but to the characters, it seems to feel normal…ish.
Disgusting, But With Intention
Overall, this French/Belgian film easily achieves the status of a smart, artsy, foreign cinematic experience. However, did you ever imagine paying money to watch an uncomfortably extended scene of someone scratching at a disgusting rash all over their body, or witnessing someone going to vomit in a toilet only to discover that they are choking on an endless wad of hair? How about a bikini wax gone horribly wrong, leading to a dismembered finger? Raw made a firm decision to go there, and one can’t really argue that it doesn’t fit with the theme. Its gruesome decisions do not seem to be purely for shock value. Many moments while watching this film will be spent peeking through the cracks of your fingers with a sick fascination, yet somehow ending up enjoying the unapologetically grungy aftereffect Raw leaves you with. One never quite feels clean or settled for the duration of one hour and thirty-nine minutes and must learn to accept or maybe even embrace it. It’s quite thrilling when art can induce this sort of reaction, though you may need a shower!
Far-Fetched Dystopian Plotpoints
No word better than Raw could be used to describe the visceral animalistic behavior that begins to overcome the young protagonist, Justine, which is just in time to bleed into her burgeoning sexuality. Portrayed by French actress, Garance Marillier, the 18-year-old begins her journey into the world of veterinary school, where a hazing ritual and a wild (to put it mildly) welcome party ensues. This film enjoys taking the characters on a ride alongside reasonably real-life situations but to outlandish extremes. For example, did your first college party include an all-night underground rave? Justine and her roommate seem content to attend, looking like they’ve been on a days-long drug bender without showering for a week. To be a teenager again! How about eating a raw rabbit kidney as a haze? Completely normal. As an avid vegetarian, Justine refuses to partake but is pushed by her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf). After all, their parents did it when they went there. Soon after, our leading lady falls ill (ya think?) and begins developing intensely feverish cravings for raw meat!
Symbolizing Raging Hormones
The meaning behind Raw’s plot can be thought of as a (fittingly, raw) overdramatized manifestation of the experience of female hormonal changes and newfound sexuality. Ladies, have you ever felt like there was a monster inside? Well, for Justine and Alexia, transitioning to womanhood may just involve actual monster tendencies like drawing blood from the lip of a boy you like, delightfully swallowing a chunk of his skin, and then snacking on his leg the next morning. No big deal. Sometimes a girl gets hungry!
Though criticized for its graphic and disturbing content, Raw has received much acclaim for its creative screenplay and direction (Julia Ducournau). Earning the 29th place on Rolling Stone’s list of “101 Best Horror Movies of All Time”, it was claimed as “nearly perfect” and “a contender for the best horror movie of the decade” by renowned film critic David Fear. Award-winning Belgian cinematographer, Ruben Impens, has also been highly praised for his work on this film. Raw is streaming on Netflix in its original French with English or French subtitles. If you think you can stomach it, grab a Bloody Mary to wash down a rare beef heart and enjoy this cinematic masterpiece. Bon appetit!
Raw (2016) Official Focus World Trailer