“Raw” is a disquieting movie to say the least. The rumors, however, of it causing many people to pass out while watching its premiere, on May 14, 2016, at the Cannes Film Festival, have, from all accounts, been exaggerated. There were several people, who attended the Göteborg Film Festival in Sweden, that did pass out. Furthermore, a little over two-dozen individuals left the theater because they couldn’t handle what was being depicted on screen, but given the number of attendees that did stay to watch the entire duration of the film’s 99 minute runtime, there wasn’t a mass exit. The level of goriness, while part and parcel, germane to the subject matter, is nothing compared to the gratuitous, and over-the-top blood soaked scenes of other films, for example, in the SAW franchise.
At the start of the film, idealistic and introverted, Justine (Garance Marillier), is traveling with her mother (Joana Preiss), and father (Laurent Lucas), to veterinary school. The school is the parents alma mater, and where Justine’s older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is currently in attendance. In addition to the parents being veterinarians, and the two girls training to become vets, the family of four are strict vegetarians. A short time after arriving, however, Justine’s lifestyle choice is put to the test.
The freshman students are hazed by the upperclassman, everything from having their mattresses thrown out their dorm window – to being awakened in the middle of the night, and without even being given time to change their clothes, having to crawl on their hands and knees to a party, where they’re expected to partake of everything. One hazing ritual that Justine is required to endure, as are all incoming, freshman students, is to eat meat. When the request is made of Justine, she is both repulsed and hesitant. As Justine puts off eating the meat, she is spotted by Alexia, and it appears, for a brief moment, as if her older sibling is coming to her rescue. Justine thinks that Alexia will tell her upper level classmates to leave her sister alone, but the opposite is true. In that moment, Justine learns that when it was Alexia’s time to break with the family’s vegetarian lifestyle that she did so, and it wasn’t that bad.
The taste of meat, at first, brings the on-set of a terrible rash on Justine’s body. She seeks medical help for the rash, but afterward begins to develop urges she never knew she had. The feeling of hunger for meat, that awakens within her, leads to a series of events, some exceptionally grisly, that will propel the film forward. Justine is not stupid, and she soon ascertains that she has serious problems that extend beyond doing well in her classes, which aren’t easy – impressing her professor (Jean-Louis Sbille), who feels there are more deserving students who should have been admitted to the school instead of Justine; and attempting to get along with her classmates, of whom, her only friend is her roommate, Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella).
The director doesn’t plunge her main protagonist into a rapid abyss of unnatural behavior. Instead, the filmmaker takes a gradual approach, letting Justine’s character evolve, bit by shocking bit, from timid teenager into the brazen, cannibalistic predator she will ultimately become. Ducournau, while not judging, does showcase to the viewer, the horrendous consequences that befall certain characters because of Justine’s actions.
“Raw” is a lurid and provocative, debut feature film, by French writer and director, Julia Ducournau. Throughout the film she alternates between scenes where she allows the tension to build to a palpable level, and other scenes where nothing is held back. Aiding Ducournau, was the striking cinematography of Ruben Impens (The Broken Circle Breakdown), who does an excellent job of capturing a bleak cinematic landscape that matches the struggle that is undertaken by Justine. Additionally, the unsettling score, composed by Jim Williams (Kill List), perfectly synchs up to what is taking place on screen. The casting was spot on, as all of the characters in the film come across as organic, especially Marillier, who gives a daring performance.
Leaving aside the gore factor, the film which is parts drama and horror, is a nuanced, coming-of-age movie. I can’t stress enough, that this film is not for the squeamish or faint-of-heart; while fitting in with the overall theme, during various scenes, there is truly disturbing imagery on display. For those of you interested in watching the film, it is currently available for streaming on Netflix.