Mark Reviews Movies

Raw

RAW

2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Julia Ducournau

Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss

MPAA Rating: R (for aberrant behavior, bloody and grisly images, strong sexuality, nudity, language and drug use/partying)

Running Time: 1:39

Release Date: 3/10/17 (limited); 3/17/17 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 16, 2017

There's a lot to admire about the way that Raw ties the trials and perils of burgeoning womanhood to a horror story about forbidden hunger. Yes, this is a tale about cannibalism, and the movie is, at its best (if one considers the notion of being made uncomfortable to be one of the central points of horror), a nausea-inducing exercise in shock and disgust. What's unsettling is not necessarily the imagery of a young woman biting into human flesh and spilling blood. It's the relative casualness and, well, passion on display during this act. She can't help herself, and even if she could, she wouldn't.

There's one scene in particular that instantly comes to mind—a scene, really, that instantly burns itself into the memory. It's the first time that Justine (Garance Marillier) gets a taste of human meat. The build-up begins as gruesome comedy, as her older sister Alex (Ella Rumpf) shows her younger sibling what a Brazilian wax entails. The process, according to the sister, is necessary, because Justine is a woman now, and society has deemed that women aren't supposed to have hair growing out of natural places. If the young woman wants to have a chance of losing her virginity, she's going to have to keep up appearances.

The scene begins innocently enough, as a bit of subversive comedy about the torture women endure for the sake of socially accepted appearances. There's horror here, too, because writer/director Julia Ducournau shoots the waxing process in extreme close-up, before suddenly cutting to Justine's face responding to her sister's violent pulling of wax and hair.

The complications begin with a chunk of wax affixing itself to Justine's skin, and obviously—since it ends with Justine eating human flesh—the scene escalates from there. There's a sense of absurdity to it, because there's no way to figure out how the scene will arrive at the end point. Let's just say that it involves some scissors, and that Ducournau possesses the know-how to include a dog in the scene, because, when what happens actually happens, our expectations automatically go to the dog.

Ducournau is quite good at establishing expectations before shattering them in ways that we couldn't predict, even if we wanted to do so. We don't, because so much of this material is disgusting. One of the filmmaker's more effective tricks is how she subverts even that expectation. We get the overtly gross scene, and the rest of the movie plays out without repeating that kind of imagery. The horror is not in that Justine eats people. It's in that she really, really wants to.

She's a first-year veterinary student at school. Her parents (Laurent Lucas and Joana Preiss) have raised their daughters as vegetarians. That changes during the school's hell week, as new students are put through various ordeals. One has them line up to eat a raw rabbit kidney. Justine, who believes that animals have rights, objects, but Alex, popping one in her own mouth convinces her sister.

The snack is the start of both a horrible rash that spreads across her body and a hunger that she assuages by eating as much meat as she can—whether it be cooked or raw. A kindly doctor points out the absurdity of following along with the crowd.

That's the underlying theme here. There are multiple pressures for Justine—about her physical appearance, about sex, about fitting in for the sake of not sticking out amongst one's peers. Justine's appetites, as well as the consequences of indulging in it or repressing it, take on the appearance of other things.

When she vomits in a bathroom after eating, a fellow female student, believing that Justine has an eating disorder, offers advice on how to make the process easier. Starving herself of her hunger makes Alex believe that Justine is anorexic. A couple of innocent-enough sexual encounters—one somewhat forced by peer pressure and the other complicated by the fact that the guy, her roommate (Rabah Nait Oufella), is gay—result in some genuine tension. Justine's attempts to get some biting into a vigorous love-making session could be taken as ravenous lust or as her simply being ravenous.

Marillier's performance here is an astonishing melding of a brand of horror-movie stereotype (There's a shot of her staring at a group of partygoers that's chilling) and a character whose desires and insecurities are completely sympathetic. That one scene—the end result of the waxing gone wrong—is as queasy as it is, in part, because Marillier plays it with the matter-of-factness of someone thoroughly enjoying a tasty meal.

It's more difficult to determine what these connections—between social pressures and cannibalism—have to say about Justine as a character or as a representative of her age and sex within society. The movie's allegorical aims are deep, but their impact is unfortunately slight (For example, the movie's final revelation is a good punch line, but it means little beyond that, since it involves characters whose relevance to the story is inconsequential). Raw is a horror movie that has something to say. It either is uncertain of the specifics or becomes too caught up in the grotesque for the message to come through clearly.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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