Every so often a movie comes along that builds an infamous hype behind it. Most people can easily identify The Human Centipede—though only a few would actually dare to watch it.
So when Raw popped up on my radar about a year ago when it premiered at Cannes, I realized this movie must have something going for it when it not only received critical acclaim, but also left people fainting and vomiting in the theater.
Cannibalism is a subject seldom handled with the same finesse and intensity as Julia Ducournau does. In her first solo feature film, Ducournau’s work surpasses its own hype and proves to be effectively scary thanks to a smartly written script from the mind of someone who watched a whole lot of early David Cronenberg.
Life isn’t always easy being a freshman in college, but for Justine (played by Garance Marillier) its even harder when she shows up to vet school flaunting her strict vegetarianism and having to undergo some pretty terrifying hazing rituals. You’d think that having her older, upperclassman sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) would help ease her passage…and it does, but it also opens up roads Justine—and the audience—don’t necessarily want to go down.
After being forced to eat rabbit kidneys during her initiation, Justine develops a hunger for some new things—mostly meat, and mostly that of humans. When a freak accident leaves Alexia’s finger severed, Justine—in a scene that still sends me into cold sweats while thinking about it, and surely a reason for the free barf bags provided upon entry—examines the finger like a blogging foodie stares lovingly at a nice, deep-fried drumstick. And then she eats it.
This sets off a chain of events that spirals out of control into a hellish nightmare of a coming-of-age movie. Filled with heightened eroticism, a striking color palate, and some not-so-subtle social commentary on body image and sexuality, Raw is also shockingly funny, though you wouldn’t really expect it to be. On top of that, Ducournau proves herself to be a radical new voice in the art of film, and she’s coming at a time when voices like hers are sorely needed. I certainly hope she has more to say, because she’s like a blood-curdling scream from the deep.
Though not for the faint of heart, there’s some real greatness to Raw, which many will surely miss out on for the reputation the film carries. While you may walk out saying it wasn’t all that bad, I would be very surprised if you get a little squirmy. Though certain elements of the film aren’t fully explained (even if that is part of its charm) Julia Ducournau, with the help of the doe-eyed and sinister Marillier crafts a film so rich and effective that those who can muster up the guts to challenge its reputation will be sufficiently and effectively surprised by this brilliant little film.