Cannibal movies have a long and naturally, bloody history throughout their time as one of horror’s most horrific of sub-genres. Their unsavory subject matter has made for some of the most notorious films in all of cinema. From banned films like Cannibal Holocaust and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to prestige films like the Academy Award winning The Silence of the Lambs, or the more recent Bone Tomahawk, movies featuring cannibalism have delighted and disgusted audiences for decades. From fan favorites, The Hills Have Eyes and Motel Hell, to more comedic takes such as Eating Raoul and Delicatessen, from hard-core splatterfests, Blood Feast and the Wrong Turn franchise, to more recent fare, like Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno and Debbie Rochon’s Model Hunger, the fondness for fleshy feasts of the human kind never ceases to fascinate. Now, add in the ingredients of an adolescent girl coming of age and a female French filmmaker making her first feature (yes, the ‘f’ alliterations are flying fast and free), and you’ve got the makings of the tasty treat that is Raw.
Justine is entering veterinary college, following in her family’s footsteps. A seemingly never-ending rush week includes the eating of raw rabbit kidney, which poses a particular dilemma for Justine, who just so happens to be a lifelong vegetarian. Helping her through this ordeal is her sister, Alexia, an upperclassman who’s been through this hazing ritual before. After consuming the organ, Justine develops an uncomfortable rash, and soon after, an insatiable desire for meat. However, in time, animal products prove unsatisfactory as Justine is ready to graduate to more evolved forms of flesh. As Justine takes on the rigors of school, coupled with her growing womanhood, her ravenous needs threaten to consume her entire world.
As Justine, Garance Marillier is a revelation. Having mostly appeared in a few short films, she takes the audience along on her journey from a naïve, socially awkward girl to an aggressive, sexually-confident young woman. It’s a transformation that Marillier handles brilliantly. As her sister, Alexia, Ella Rumpf (above) commands the screen with her beauty, charisma and wildness. As is often the case between sisters, there is a love and rivalry happening at the same time, and these two fine actresses convey that relationship very believably. We’ll be on the lookout for what the future holds for both of these young performers. Also worth mentioning is Rabah Nait Ouefella, offering some social commentary and humor as Justine’s roommate.
Raw marks the feature film debut for writer/director Julia Ducournau, and an auspicious one at that. Whereas cannibals are often portrayed collectively and as monsters, here we get the singular and very real depiction of a girl fighting her cravings and destructive impulses. Taking a distasteful subject and making it palatable for audiences is no easy task, yet Julia manages to do so while exploring the pangs of adolescence, school and social conformity. While the film isn’t an outright gorefest by any means, there are some cringe-inducing moments to be sure. A number of revelations occur throughout the film, right to the very end, as we learn little by little what Justine’s predicament entails. Ducournau handles it all with style and intelligence, making her, like her young stars, a talent to watch. That the film originates from the French, known for their cuisine, seems to be particularly fitting as well.
There have been a number of coming of age horror movies where the girl in question is seguing into womanhood while simultaneously dealing with a terrible and deadly affliction – Carrie, Ginger Snaps, Teeth, Jennifer’s Body – to name a few. It’s a subject that really deserves a woman’s deft touch. As so many horror films in general offer a female as protagonist, it only makes sense that more female filmmakers bring these tales to life. Thankfully, and refreshingly, that appears to be the case as we’re beginning to see more women behind the camera. Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body, XX), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Bad Batch) are a few of those who’ve done acclaimed work, many writing as well as directing their films, and now we can add Julia Ducournau to that list. Raw serves as a prime example of why we hope this trend continues of women adding their voices and perspectives to the world of horror cinema.
— review by Brian de Castro