★★★★ of ★★★★★
An Unsettling yet Endearing Cannibal Story
Raw is a French film by Julia Ducournau and received a good bit of buzz as a hybrid new-wave horror flick. It stars Garance Marillier as Justine, a young vegetarian woman entering her first year at veterinary school, where ritual hazing forces her to eat a dubious rabbit’s kidney as a rite of passage. Justine initially refuses to partake in this ritual, but her bullying big sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), already an upperclassman at the school, convinces her to go through with it. Justine subsequently breaks out into a horrific body rash, and then more problematically for her psyche, is driven towards eating meat. Human meat.
Justine struggles with her newfound craving for flesh, and is assisted by Alexia in a wickedly ironic twist of situations. (To describe the twist would be to spoil the best moment in the film… so trust me, it’s a doozy!) The sister relationship is the center of the movie, and how they process Justine’s condition is a wild unpredictable ride, all the way to the conclusion of the film. Raw is a movie largely devoid of jump scares, but it layers on the anxiety like a sandwich of human cold cut slices. Though I never was scared outright, there were moments where I yelled at the screen “Nooooo! Don’t do it!” and twitched with nervousness and giggles.
You’re not really sure if Justine can pull out of her habit, and as her secret gets out amongst her student peers, your sense of claustrophobia sets in. In movies where the protagonist becomes the monster, it is imperative that you can find that thread of sympathy towards our antihero, and Justine is absolutely endearing in this role. I found it difficult upon first viewing to determine what Ducournau’s take on carnivores is, as the film vacillates from presenting the inherent preachiness of vegetarianism and the visceral bloodiness of meat. However, she has created something darkly comic, unsettling, and ends the movie with a tale of great sacrifice on many levels.
It’s a very Euro-feeling film. It doesn’t fall into a zombie-plague horror pandemic, that one would suspect from a more mainstream film. It’s a strange tale of sibling rivalries, sexual awakening, secrets, and trust… with a cannibal twist. I usually am horribly squeamish with cannibal movies, particularly the 80’s Italian gore-fests like Cannibal Ferox/Cannibal Holocaust, but this film just may have redeemed the cannibal film for future generations.
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