Raw (2016) – A review

Want to fall in love with film? (Again) – Here’s why you need to watch RAW.

A feature debut from Julia Ducournau, RAW is an experience to make you question humanity, hug your knees and ultimately fall in love with film – for some, a second time over.

Before going any further I will say I personally consider the subject matter of RAW somewhat of a spoiler – maybe. This film taps into so many feelings and just watching it is so much of a subjective experience it’s hard to deliver any information and say you’d have the same reaction than if you knew nothing going in. While not necessarily a spoiler, I knew what RAW was about before watching it and I know that I would have experienced the film differently had I not known anything about it; it might not have been a better or worse experience, just different so I’m gonna try and stay pretty vague.

RAW is a French-Belgian film (available with subtitles) that masterfully tells the story of Justine (Garance Marillier), a young vegetarian and student who has been accepted and subsequently arrived at a prestigious vet school. She is forced to take part in some eyebrow raising, over-the-top hazing rituals, which range from the mildly annoying to gag-inducing teen cruelty. The horror doesn’t truly start for Justine until she’s coerced into a tradition which her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf) and her parents sometime before that have all been forced to partake in. After reluctantly submitting to the pressure of her sister and peers, the ritual causes a reaction on her skin, and in many ways under it. After a series of nightmarish reactions something truly dark awakens inside of her; Justine soon begins to long for something that she knows with every fiber of her being is not only against her morals but seen as a monstrous taboo, and yet she just can’t help herself.

Raw came to us in 2016, an amazing year for film, and yet it managed to keep things fresh – mind the pun. While labelled a horror, Raw never manages to scare you in the traditional sense of jumping behind your sofa – the horrifying aspect of this visual experience is the sudden realization you can’t tear your eyes away no matter how much you want to. I personally think horror is somewhat of a misnomer for this film: Darkly funny – yes; brilliantly gory – yes; “what the f**k; inducing – absolutely. You’ll find yourself inexplicably relating to the main character as she struggles her way through not only her absurdist and carnal desires but also the things we all go through at her age – dealing with a newfound freedom, sexual awakening and experimentation. At its heart, RAW is a coming of age film following a teenage girl as she encounters her own desires, jealousies and family drama.

Trying to stay impartial – I’m forced to find possibly anything anyone could say wrong about the film – for me (while this remains subjective) I think exposition used in the narrative is a little flat, there’s not that much to figure out with this film; it has it’s twists and turns but as soon as you turn that corner, there’s a big red sign that says “THIS IS A TWIST AND WHAT IT MEANS IS THIS”. It could be argued that there are certain aspects in this film that could have been hinted at a little more subtly, but overall in a film that uses brave and (like it’s namesake) pretty raw narrative choices this doesn’t scratch the overall experience one bit.

Characterization in this film evolves beautifully – truly reflecting the nature of teens finding freedom in experimentation. Not just with the main character evolving from a moralistic, uptight vegetarian but every main character in this film is not set in stone and we learn something with every action, every piece of dialogue, every interaction which adds to the overall unpredictability, keeping every second gripping.

There’s so much I have to say about this film but please just give it a watch – the things I truly have to shout out about RAW which I haven’t seen many praises for are both the cinematography (Ruben Impens) and soundtrack (Various), as we follow Justine into a darkly seductive world as she loses her grip on not only right and wrong but on the line between need and desire. The storytelling prowess of the crew truly comes to light (or arguably, to dark), and the shots, the lighting, the sound – they all have a visceral effect on you as a viewer drawing you into the mind of Justine as it gets more chaotic, more hedonistic and so much more exciting.