A lot of fuss is being made about “Raw,” a twisted and dark French horror film about shy vegetarian teen Justine (Garance Marillier) who, after a bizarre rabbit kidney eating hazing ritual at a veterinary school, finds herself with an uncontrollable craving for meat. It’s an amusing premise for a movie, but I wouldn’t really classify this as a true horror film. Yes, the movie features graphic cannibalism and unforgiving close-ups of gross-out flesh chewing, but it’s more horrifically funny than truly suspenseful and terrifying. Think of it as more arty exploitation than true horror.
Marillier is perfectly cast in the lead role, bringing the perfect mix of innocent and crazy. In fact, she’s pretty damn fantastic and carries the film with a fearless feminist spirit. The same goes for Ella Rumpf (as her sister Alexia). The two are completely believable as sisters with a relationship that will become, over the course of the film, a bit more…complicated.
There’s a refreshingly unique female perspective to the film, with deeper themes that explore the agony and ecstasy of becoming a woman and the complications that sometimes arise between sisters and familial relationships. Writer / director Julia Ducournau handles the material with a confident ease, not an easy task when you’re at the helm of a disturbing coming of age tale where your heroine discovers her budding sexuality in what can only be described as a carnal as well as a carnivorous awakening.
Setting the film in a veterinary school seems pointless and wasted for the most part. Justine’s rabid desires may play well off the setting, but there are far too many odd directorial choices that go nowhere, like a slow motion scene of a horse running on a treadmill. It’s visually stunning, but serves no purpose to the story — not even as a relevant metaphor. There are so many animalistic qualities that aren’t fully realized or explored (except for a brilliant scene where Alexia takes Justine to teach her to hunt like a predator schooling her young, where drivers on a nearby highway make for easy prey).
The setting also makes this movie not such a great choice for animal lovers, as I had to shut my eyes in many scenes. While I couldn’t watch the nauseatingly detailed dog autopsies and horse surgery, I had no problem with the gruesome human cannibalism scenes — and I’m not sure what this disturbing fact says about my psyche. This also is not a film for the squeamish. Trust me on this.
Justine’s introduction to cannibalism — her cannibal origin story, if you will — is pretty funny and is scored with some killer (ha!) original music. There are lots of cringe-worthy and macabre scenes, including an unforgettable sequence with an at-home Brazilian wax gone wrong. Very wrong.
To stretch the film’s runtime, the director adds in a few too many party scenes that feel much like pointless filler. Ducournau has a great artistic eye and a clear vision, but some of the pieces don’t quite work as they should (like a slow motion early morning walk of shame across the school’s campus). The idea had to look great on paper but it doesn’t translate well to film.
“Raw” very much reminds me of Yorgos Lathimos’ films, especially “Dogtooth,” in tone and style. It’s the kind of disgustingly funny movie where you will be unsure if you should laugh or vomit.
This film was screened and reviewed at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.