Raw. 2017. Directed & Written by Julia Ducournau.
Starring Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss, Bouli Lanners, Marion Vernoux, & Jean-Louis Sbille.
Petit Film/Rouge International/Frakas Productions
Rated R. 99 minutes.
Disclaimer: The following article contains several important spoilers.
Check the film out, then come back, discuss.
Else ye be spoiled!
After the hype, the anticipation, Raw had to deliver the goods. Reviews promised gruesome horror with emotional weight. What we get is exactly that: a film exploring transgressive fiction and various themes surrounding the maturation of a young girl, Justine (Garance Marillier), whose experience at the same veterinary school her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) attends reshapes the very fabric of her existence.
Of course there’s the suggested, incessantly talked about horror imagery, which supposedly led to incidents at various theatres involving people feeling ill, passing out, all that jazz. It isn’t laden with blood, though there’s a fair share of nasty gore to impress even seasoned horror veterans.
What works most for Ducournau is her concentration on the family: Justine, her sister, her parents. The film begins and ends on shots of the family, albeit in vastly different circumstances. But the opening parallels its bookend, focusing our attention not merely on Justine, also the seed from which she and her sister grew. This is exactly why Raw does its job as a horror movie – shocking us, challenging us to straddle the line between societal norms and transgressive acts – and also as an allegory, about how sometimes, to help those we love, maybe even to continue loving them, we must accept the darkest parts of them. In turn, accepting the darkest parts of us; of humans.
Major themes here: coming of age, the transition from young girl to adult woman, as we watch the transformation and metamorphosis of Justine, and Marillier’s physical performance is fascinating to observe, her posture and body seem to change from start to finish; cannibalism is linked viscerally to Justine’s sexual awakening, like an urge that can destroy oneself, a primitive part of humanity; finally, there’s also the idea that humans are intrinsically primal, that something such as cannibalism can come in the form of a hereditary gene.
Body horror takes us through the metamorphosis of Justine into womanhood. After first ingesting human meat, she’s insatiable in her hunger. This leads to the shakes, physical reactions to her hungry stomach crying out for more flesh. She becomes like a junkie, quivering under the sheets, sweating it out. What’s more is the dangerous, visceral link to her sexual maturation. Each act of cannibalism involves a form of physical intimacy or sexuality. For instance, when she first tries a taste, this is preceded by Alexia between her legs, waxing her pubic hair for the first time. Later, Justine bites out a piece of a guy’s bottom lip when they’re playing a 7th Heaven-type game at the dorm. When she has sex the first time with a close friend, she basically can’t climax without biting into her own arm until the blood seeps out from between her teeth.
“It’s nothing. Everybody does it.”
This concept of primitivity in modern humans leads to the idea of humans as animals. Many animals roam in packs, of course; or better yet, families. This is where the relationship between Justine and Alexia comes into play. The older sister pushes Justine not out of sister love or a need to support, she’s determined her sister experience the same life as her. She’s the one who first forces her younger sister into eating raw rabbit kidney as part of the hazing rituals. Moreover, she’s also heavily linked to the scene in which Justine first eats human flesh. This is because she is determined that if she must bear the family shame, so must her sibling.
We see the primitive nature of both Justine and Alexia come out in full force when they fight one another amid high tensions: biting, clawing each other like two animals, savage and both seeking bloody dominance over each other yet refusing to be broken apart, leaving in each other’s arms when others step in.
Here’s where the element of allegory rears its head. You can see it as anything, whether it be mental illness or even something much darker. But at its core, Raw explores how people love one another, the way sometimes we must learn HOW to love someone because of an inescapable flaw in their DNA, whatever the case may be. In this story, we centre on Justine’s family, obviously intensifying the emotional strings when they’re pulled. Showing us a situation of ultimate love and sacrifice. The ending is a shocker, in the greatest sense, because it’s at once a hideous image to finish on, while also stating clearly: love can conquer all, even if it may not be healthy. Hope and a warning, all in one.
What would you do, or what wouldn’t you do, for your family, the one you love most? This is the central question beating at the gorgeously ugly heart of Raw. You can pull all sorts of different things from out of Ducournau’s devastating, emotional, gruesome film. Above all is, through transgressive fiction, we discover that perhaps acceptance – no matter the cost – is better than rejection when it comes to our various natures as human beings. Despite the danger and darkness in this type of thought, Ducournau navigates us intelligently through the subject matter.
It isn’t the most gory film out there, neither is it tame. I can see how it would affect people with a higher sensitivity for blood, especially in combination with the sexual nature of the scenes involving cannibalism. However, horror excels best when it challenges us on some level. Raw, for its visceral and emotional qualities, is one of the more challenging horrors of the past few years.
Many films suffer from too much hype; this is not one. It’s not going to make many people pass out as the early screening stories reported. It will make many of you explore the darker side of the psyche, offering little actual catharsis, but providing an unsettling experience that is unforgettable.