When Raw had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, the big story was two people were taken out of the theater on stretchers. I believe that story, but I think it’s just as likely they fainted at how good the movie is than it was because of the gore.
Raw is the feature film debut of director Julia Ducornau. It’s about a girl named Justine (Garance Marillier) who, like her parents and sister before her, gets into veterinary school. There she’s met with a level of hazing reserved for frat boy comedies and, along the way, the noted vegetarian acquires a taste for meat. Raw, human meat, to be more specific. Then things only get weirder.
The first thing that strikes you about Raw is its energy. There’s never a moment or shot that’s wasted in the film. Even the quiet scenes have a real sense of purpose, and some of the louder party and hazing scenes have a true electricity about them. At the start, Raw sets itself up to be a provocative, vibrant college movie. Instead of math classes, there are classes about sedating horses, so it’s an unfamiliar, quirky and slightly unsettling world you can’t help but be sucked into.
All the while, Justine is this soft center of a very edgy movie. She’s a quiet, shy, girl going through hell in her first few weeks at school. The audience feels her pain because it seems impossible that this fragile human could make it through such cruelty. It also doesn’t help that her sister Alexa (Ella Rumpf) is a bit older and already wise in the ways of the school. The two immediately have a sibling rivalry.
As the film unfolds, Justine slowly becomes more acclimated. She begins to experiment with sexuality and, for some reason, starts to break her diet in really odd ways (namely the human meat thing). This is the one dark mark on Raw. Watching the film, Justine’s turn from hardcore vegetarian to something else comes out of nowhere. There are a few hints for sure, but the transition is still jarring. Once you get over that, though, is when things go from really good to completely great.
Now, the real reason why people probably got dragged out of a screening of Raw is the film gets very disgusting. It would be a crime to explain any of the specific scenes but I will say the scenes are never what you’re expecting and always very bloody. However, the film is way less interested in being a gory horror film that it is about exploring a loss of innocence and the rapid maturity of a young woman finally living on her own. It just so happens this is done through a calculated and terrifying devolution of ingestion.
That realistic approach to Justine’s change is the other thing that really makes Raw so special. It’s not only trying to freak you out and make you feel queasy; it does that plenty, but its real aim is making you consider the filmmaker’s intentions. You walk out of the movie horrified at what you just saw, but exhilarated and curious at the same time. The fact this complex, energetic and wholly entertaining film is a debut feature film is stunning. Raw is a gory gem of a film that you have to seek out.
Raw recently screened at Fantastic Fest 2016. It will be released sometime in the future by Focus World.