Director: Julia Ducournau
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas
Plot: Strict vegetarian Justine (Marillier) leaves her family home to go to University where a tough hazing ceremony makes her subconsciously give way to the desires of eating meat.
Throughout the cinematic year, a lot of the time, small independent gems, often foreign language films, end up coasting under the radar of audiences. Raw perhaps has had more of its fair share in the limelight than most, taking the Cannes film festival by storm and picking up international awards across the globe. Yet at the box office, it just missed out on profit, claiming back 31 million of the 3.5 million spent making the film. The buzz also only seems to come from the high-end critics, Raw seemingly missing the general public by. This is a shame, because Raw is up there with the most hard-hitting films of 2017.
The best way to describe Raw is an incredibly low-key monster movie. While it is a film that lies on an air of mystery, you are likely to know the biggest crux of the story in reading up on whether this is a film for you or not. We are introduced to Justine, a quiet girl who comes from a strict vegetarian family. Cue a scene where Justine finds a meatball accidentally mixed in with her vegetarian meal at a restaurant and her mother angrily exploding to the staff. Justine is dropped off at a university campus for veterinary students. No sooner have her parents left, she is subjected to harsh hazing rituals. Go in blind and you might thing that this is the point of the movie. Director Julia Ducournau seems to make a point of highlighting how animal the life of a student can be. The new students are forced to complete several demeaning tasks. School photos are taken with animal blood covered all over them. They are marched to a club in their pyjamas in the middle of the night. Girls are covered in blue paint, boys in yellow and they are not allowed out of a room until they have mixed each other a shade of green. The director makes a note to use her cinematography to show how brutal university life can be. Humans are treated as lowly animals, not much different than the background animals in the vet school, who are often given equally little thought. One dog is used as a scapegoat and the director makes sure that it is referenced where the animal blood for the gnarly school photo is harvested from. One particular hazing ritual is key to the actual plot. All the students are forced to eat raw rabbit kidney, which is, particularly, gruesome for Justine, a vegetarian. Her sister, one of the elder students, provides no help in the situation and Justine is forced to, for the first time in her life, consume meat. The next morning, she wakes up with skin peeling from her body, a vicious rash becoming the consequence for giving into the hazing and eating meat. However, this is not the worse symptom of her actions. This is where Raw really becomes the film it wants to be, with Justine’s hunger for meat slipping from trying out burgers for the first time, to feasting on raw chicken in the middle of the night to trying human flesh. The standout scene in the film is clearly one pulse-pounding moment where Justine finds herself alone with a dismembered finger. You know where the scene is going but Ducournau teases it out of us, with a slow, excruciating tense shot of Justine slowly giving into her monstrous desires.
The rest of the film shows Justine’s descent to ideal yet socially anxious student to cannibalistic monster. The key staples of the young woman evolving into a monster movie are all present, with scenes where Justine’s sexuality awakens overnight and she has violent fall-outs with her close friends. It is a mesmerising turn from Garance Marillier, who shows the humanity slowly dripping away from the character. Those innocent doe-eyes can turn so quickly into nothing but hunger. One scene where some students film her drunk and feebly going for a snack is tough to look away from, combining the awful hazing with the uncomfortable nature of the cannibal plot. The most interesting character is definitely Justine’s sister however. You never know what to make of her. On one hand, Ella Rumpf plays the trademark role of bitchy older sister who really has a heart of gold. Just when you think Rumpf’s character is going to throw Justine to the wolves, she shows humanity and sisterhood. Cue touching scenes where the two sisters mess around together or commit horrible acts to protect each other. But at the same time, there are scenes in this film where the sister is unnecessarily cruel. The more you think about the character, the more you realise how senseless her lower moments are. Rumpf doesn’t even play the good points as apologetic changes of heart, but portrays the sister as a puppet master, toying with her young sister. Perhaps this ties the movie back to the hazing. Raw definitely has all the themes of an interesting metaphor at heart. Justine is a vegetarian that turns to eating humans. Humans are treated like animals in hazing rituals. The movie shows vets tasked with looking after animals, essentially treating animals as objects. There are several dots floating around here and I definitely haven’t come close to connecting them all yet. I am sure in time, Raw with become twice as intelligent a film as I am taking it for right now. At the moment, Raw’s biggest draw is intrigue. The plot is an interesting one, especially with a killer ending, and will definitely have you reflecting on it for some time.
Final Verdict: A mysterious film rammed with tension and gritty moments. Wonderfully directed and written, Raw deserves to be seen.