NB: Contains plot spoilers
‘Raw‘ follows a young girl in her first year of study at veterinary school. It is clear from the opening scenes of the film that she is vegetarian; she spits out a lump of meat hidden in her mash potato in the cafeteria of a roadside service station. Her reason for learning how to be a vet is seemingly in line with this, her motivation to help animals. It is only after a couple of unsettling college hazing rituals that things take a drastic and unexpected turn.
The film is as much about meat eating, cannibalism, and straight up gore, as it is about the body and discovering sexuality. The visuals set an alarming tone for the film. Director Julia Ducournau creates a believable environment, the soundtrack matching the youthful experience of going to uni. The soundscape is generally murky, at odds with the frequent quick editing and close up.
We go everywhere with the lead, Justine (Garance Marillier). We follow her from classroom, to underground rave, to student halls. However, it seems as if all of this is turned upside down. The domestic order of things is disregarded by all of the students. The beds, bedding and other furniture are toppled and thrown on the floor or into the corridor space. It is obvious that Justine, and by extension director Ducournau, favour an exploration of the individual above an attempt to pitch in any kind of realism.
Having said that, the performances from the cast in the lead and supporting roles are believable (as much as they can be in a film of this nature). Marillier is at first convincing as vegetarian Justine but is as scared and confused as the audience after the series of hazing rituals. Her sister Alexia is portrayed by Ella Rumpf; who is at first made to look wiser as the older sibling. She then displays a visceral ruthlessness which is instrumental to ‘Raw’ as a whole.
What’s confusing (and this is where major spoilers come into play) is room mate Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella) and his relationship to both Alexia and Justine. It is established early in the film that Adrien is gay, yet in direct opposition of this, he is attracted to the girls in the film. The writing is confused. Ducournau has admitted that in initial drafts of the film, Alexia and Justine were friends rather than sisters. Adrien’s homosexuality seems like a strange side-step, fulfilling narrative development and not having other significance.
If Adrien is gay, why is he so obsessed with his room mate? One reading could be that his character exists to challenge the male gaze in this picture. I do think it’s bad to use something like sexual orientation in this way. It’s great to have diverse characters in a film, but if the sole reason of their otherness is to dodge further narrative problems, it becomes disappointing.
Excusing this minor writing flaw, the film is arresting and unique. It has an unremitting structure. It is gross, immediate, and will leave you feeling uneasy at times. There’s certainly nothing else like this as far as I can remember.
[rating=4]| Zach Roddis
Horror, Drama | France/Belgium, 2016 | 18 | 7th April 2017 (UK) | Universal Pictures Int (UK) | Dir. Julia Ducournau| Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella