Raw was my favourite film of 2017. Without a doubt. I saw it several times in the cinema and I’ve watched it so many times at home. It’s everything I want from a film, I can’t find anything wrong with it. It’s clever, it’s darkly funny and it’s also very accurate in it’s depiction of university life. I wrote a short piece on it for a magazine I write for and I called it the cannibal film we wanted but got Eli Roth’s Green Inferno instead.
For those of you who are not familiar with the premise of the film, this is what it’s about. Garance Marillier plays Justine, who follows her parents and sister’s footsteps into a veterinary school. A brutal rite of passage includes getting blood dumped on the new students and force them to eat a small animal liver. This does not sit well with the vegetarian Justine who breaks out in a horrible rash and then some. It seems that her coming of age is a tiny bit more bloody as she develops a taste for meat and not just beef and chicken, but human.
No summary can do justice for Julia Ducornau’s film. It’s inventive and hypnotising in its approach to growing up, finding your sexuality and becoming this whole new person you didn’t know existed. Justine is naive and childish, which makes her transformation into a man-eating beast even more satisfying, because she is almost annoyingly sweet in the beginning. Although she might now crave a bit of human flesh, she never becomes a true monster, she fights to keep her humanity. She is trying to find a way to remain herself while horrific transformations take place in her body. Don’t we all. Her changes mimic our own, even if we never developed a taste for human burgers. There are new sensations, new found confidence and sexuality and a sense of being comfortable in your own body, because finally you have some say over how to use it and what for.
Ducornau deals with Justine’s sexuality admirably. Maybe it’s because the film is French, but Justine’s budding sexuality and its emergence is dealt frankly and honestly. Her first sexual encounter with her roommate is wild, animalistic and erotic, which is a change to all those awkward first encounters, with sheets magically covering everyone’s private parts. The sex is about her, about her satisfaction and her needs. As she climaxes, she bites down on her own arms, drawing blood.
The film ultimately boils down to the relationship between the two sisters and that’s what I fell in love with on my first viewing. Alexia is wild, out of control and a cool party girl, where as Justine is quiet and shy. The two couldn’t be more different and it’s the cannibalism, which turns out to be a family trait, brings them closer in ways you can’t imagine. The last act of the film is as horrifying as it is emotional. The sisters love and hate each other in equal measure, they’re too different, but crafted from the same tree. They share a genetic bond, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will get on. At the end of the day, they’re still family though. Alexia commits a heinous crime, one that isn’t only gruesome, but also hurts her sister more than anything. When Justine discovers this, she’s angry and she places a ski-pole on her sisters forehead, ready to plunge it in there and deliver a final blow to end the madness. But how could she? They’re the same and they have to stay together. The sisterly bond is one that cannot be broken, it seems.
Jim Williams’ score is one of the best film scores. It draws you in and it really drives the film forward. I still listen to it and every time I hear the Main theme, I get goosebumps. Electronic film scores have become a trend lately, especially in horror films, but rarely are they this effective and able to draw such an emotional response. Williams’ score never overtakes the visual imagery, but provides an essential companion, like all the best scores. Hearing a song will remind you of specific visual images in this case and that’s powerful.
Raw was called a feminist film and there were also many reports about audience members fainting at the over the top gore in the film. Both are true and false. The film isn’t necessarily feminist, but a very female-centric film, focuse largely on the female experience of growing up, in Raw‘s case in a very horrific way. Justine goes through what most opf us go through in uni. We become independent, but the process is scary and littered with bad sexual experiences and uncertain emotions and of course, too much alcohol. Ducornau never hides how emotionally abusive the experience can be on the female psyche. In Raw the experience manifests in what is almost a physical as well as an emotional transformation for Justine.
Raw is gory. Of course it’s gory, it’s a film about cannibalism. It’s never needlessly gory nor does it glorify violence. Raw is an intelligent film about growing up. The film is never about a cannibal, it’s about the changes we all go through in our adolescence and how we adapt to them. In Justine’s case, she has to adapt to the desire to consume human flesh as well as her new relationship with her sister. Thigns really aren’t the same after your sister munches on your first love. Grim.
Stay Excellent, and watch Raw!