In Raw, a gifted young girl attending Veterinary school is forced to eat a bleeding rabbit kidney during a hazing ritual despite her lifelong vegetarian lifestyle. This awakens something hidden in Justine (Garance Marillier); a taste for human flesh. She soon finds herself stealing hamburgers and gnawing on raw chicken from the refrigerator. Soon after, she takes her first bite of human meat – a finger – and realizes that something is very, very different about her.
But Raw is not your average Cannibal movie that exists solely to gross the audience out. Sure, there are scenes which will undoubtedly have many looking away or watching through a hand over their face, but it never descends into levels or gory stupidity that many other films are content with. Not that there’s anything wrong with gory stupidity – it’s just that Raw has a deeper purpose.
This purpose is not to watch as Justine runs through the hallways of her school eating people alive. Instead, it’s to join her as she attempts to come to terms with her inherent cannibalism. This is a horror movie in every sense, but not in the way that Saw is. Throughout the film, we see Justine attempt to deal with her penchant for munching on other human beings, yet she never seems to make a full transformation into a murderous psychopath.
We are able to explore a complex relationship with her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf), an older student at the school, as she is the more rambunctious one, contrasting Justine’s timid and introverted personality. In one of the more intentionally disgusting scenes, Alexia makes an attempt to give Justine a Brazilian Wax. One may imagine that things go horribly awry – but to say any more would ruin the surprise. There is a degree of resentment and hateful jealousy that Alexia feels towards Justine despite the sisterly love for her, which comes with having her younger sister being regarded as a prodigy at such a young age. It’s a welcome yet unexpected character study. Raw exhibits a level of intelligence rarely found in movies such as this.
The scenes that are the most disturbing here are not because of the vicious gore scenes, but because of the people involved whenever things get bloody. Raw works on a very small scale; we have the aforementioned Justine and Alexia, but there is also Justine’s only friend and suitemate Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella), a young and conflicted gay man. The trio goes through all of the typical college emotions that one may expect – jealousy, happiness, sexual identity – and even some that, hopefully, no one really has to go through in real life: the confrontation of one’s own cannibalism.
Raw can very much be seen as an allegory for a woman’s sexual awakening, but I don’t see it that way. I see Julia Ducournau’s debut film for something much simpler – and that is exactly what is shown on screen. For me, the issues at hand are more than enough. This is a girl who is dealing with the realization that she has an insatiable need for human flesh. It’s more powerful than her needs for sexual contact or companionship. It’s something that she struggles with until the very last darkly quirky frame and happily ends on a note of unsurpassed silliness for the film.