Raw is a French-Belgium horror written and directed by Julia Ducournau. It is her debut feature and has already become a favourite with critics across prominent film festivals across the world and well holy shit people do I need a lie down after watching this…To cut a long story short and to save you time, this movie captivated me from start to finish and left me speechless by the end and if you have any affinity for horror she should definitely seek it out.
Raw will certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea and it’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but I guess cannabalism rarely is in both instances.
The story focuses on shy bookish introvert, Justine (Garance Marillier), who is leaving home to begin her first year of veterinarian school as her mother, father and sister have all done before her. Once she gets there she is subject to these brutal hazing rituals from the years above – her mattress is thrown out of the window and she must crawl on all fours with the rest of the first year ‘rookies’ where she is forced to party the night away in a rave.
In one of these trials she is forced to eat raw rabbit liver despite being a strict vegetarian. When she at first refuses, her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) intervenes. She being a second year student, has gone through the gauntlet before, and so she force feeds her sister the raw animal meat. After consuming the meat Justine develops an allergic reaction and comes out in rashes, but she soon realises that another hunger awakens deep inside of her – the craving for human flesh. Which at this stage in her life, is all around her in great abundance.
Raw is a female coming of age tale lavished with fair helpings of deeply psychological Cronenbergian body horror (real a-peelable skin); seasoned with dark vampiric desires and a kind of lustiness you’d associate with the Marquis De Sade. It’s perhaps as quintessentially French as Disney’s Beauty and the Beast remake.
In terms of classic horror settings of that one derelict house in the neighbourhood boarded, the grave yard, or the deserted asylum, Raw adds the vetinarian school to the mix. It’s a setting where livestock is paraded around and dead animal carcasses are in abundance to be opened and explored for educative purposes and of course. Then you have all the students, who are basically animals themselves reverting to this primordial state of pagan ritual. Amoral on mass, partying like there is no tomorrow, relishing in the pleasures of the flesh and I guess consuming each other in more ways than one.
There is a pervading sense of horror in Raw, though I wouldn’t rush to call it a straight out horror movie. It doesn’t seek to shock you with jump out scares or gore, though it has plenty. It’s horror is more psychologically unnerving, like a car crash you can’t quite look away, it’s imagery will linger in your mind for some time.
Once you get down to it however, Raw is actually and crucially a very funny movie that is based in the classic beats of the coming of age story. One scene involving the removal of hair from a certain area of the body is at once funny and nail biting before staggering into a completely new direction you don’t expect. The variances in tones seem to encapsulate the student experience effectively. It represents first year of university and being that young person entering this much bigger world and trying to make sense of it all and who you are as a person. Raw is all these things, at once scary, but also not without humour and defining moments of gravitas.
It’s also very importantly an extremely tender story about sisterhood. Raw has been described as a highly charged feminist film. It’s easy to see why, with the display of Justine’s predatory sexual awakening which walks hand in hand with the themes and scenes of literal man-eating. The use of original music (created by Jim Williams) is a kind of fusion of distorted industrial fuzz and the kind of period harpsichord melodies you’d expect from the latest Jane Austen adaptation, where the young woman is also seeking to secure her place in the world. Justine is foist into this highly sexualised atmosphere, where boys and girls are expected to put out and conform to peer pressure – to do each other, as adolescent society expects them to.
In one scene, Justine enters a room only to have a bucket of blue paint thrown over her by the second year veterans. She is thrown into a bathroom with a boy who is covered in yellow paint, they are ordered to leave the bathroom only when they come out green. Of course, the boy comes out screaming with a little bit of red on him.
In another scene, Justine gets ready to go out partying and is dancing in front of a mirror listening to this song with very provocative lyrics. At this point Justine seems to only be turning herself on. There is definitely the presence of a fuck-men attitude on the surface, that will get the men’s rights brigade knickers in a twist if they weren’t all so obsessed with rampant discussion around the worrying feminisation of the new Star Wars films or whatever Anita Sarkeesian is saying about their beloved video games.
This extreme punk sense of feminism is a source of much of the film’s horror, but is a reactionary product of naivety and teenage despair, it is not the ultimate path that is intended for it’s heroines. Behind all the horror, Raw like most great horror movies has quite a moral core to it, it’s message is one of balance between the genders where men and women need to grow and adapt to support one another through life. The horror will always be there, it is through each other’s support we keep it at bay and endure all the scarring.
Why have Beauty and the Beast when each of us deep down are an unholy mesh of both beauty and beast? Raw is a storming feature debut from director Julia Ducournau, and whilst it won’t be to everybody’s taste, it stands as an effective coming of age tale that is both salty and sour but also sweet. The film’s ending note in particular, delivers a devastatingly savage but also hopeful message for both girls and boys to listen to.
ALSO, DOES ANYONE ELSE REMEMBER THE LONG BLONDES?
I listened to them back in my NME days – that was a real retro reference for us old timers. So thanks for that!