Fine young cannibals.
Justine (Garance Marillier), a French vegetarian who lives a pretty carefree, normal life with her parents, is just getting ready to enter veterinarian school, where she’ll join her sister and other kids who want to one day be able to help all the animals of the world. But for Justine, who is going through a pretty rough and, at times, brutal rush week as a “rookie”, finds it a little hard to connect with people who seem to care so little for animals, yet, at the same time, want to still work to help them. Even weirder is the fact that Justine, who has been a vegetarian all her life, eats a raw rabbit kidney and suddenly, can’t get enough of meat, animal, or better yet, human. In fact, it begins to take over Justine’s life at this very crucial moment in her girlhood, where she’s starting to become more and more sexually active, discovering herself a bit, and hell, even falling for a guy, even if the guy is her roommate (Rabah Naït Oufella), and also happens to be gay. Not to mention her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf ), seems to have the same issue with not being able to control her cravings for all things meat.
The central metaphor of Raw is pretty easy to figure out: Cannibalism is a lot like growing up, especially for a girl, right? Writer/director Julia Ducournau sort of knows that the idea in and of itself is a tad bit far-fetched, but believe it or not, she makes it work so much so that by the end of the movie, you may think, “Oh yeah, makes sense, right?” Either way, Raw is still a pretty great movie that jumbles together a horror story, with a coming-of-age one, that somehow works better with the later, but also deserves the former.
In other words, it’s a successful combination between the two that makes them both feel like peanut butter and jam, as opposed to peanut butter and mustard.
And yes, like I said before, Raw deals with a lot of coming-of-age themes like understanding your life, sexuality, and just where you work in the world, and it’s quite frequently insightful, smart, and well, sweet. Even without all of the blood, gore and gross-out stuff (of which there are many, and they’re actually all pretty great), Raw still feels like a genuine, honest and frank movie about coming-of-age and discovering just who the hell you are, what you like, and what the rest of your life is going to be like. It’s actually quite interesting to watch, as the movie could have easily been just about this girl’s cannibalism and the ways she tries to hide it, but instead, becomes a smart metaphor and peek inside the life of this girl, who’s just trying to know what she is and what she can bring to the world.
But it’s honestly not as lame as I make it sound, people. Raw is still a pretty brutal and disgusting movie that doesn’t hold back on making us feel sick to our stomach, which is a pretty big achievement on the part of Ducournau, who could have easily made each and every bit of the gross-out stuff a cop-out to just get weird and dark for no reason. While it’s hard to imagine cannibalism of this kind occurring without going unnoticed in a real world situation, Ducournau frames it all so well that it’s actually easy to believe these gals going around, eating all things meat, whether living or dead, getting away with it, and continuing on as if nothing ever happened. It’s silly and a little stupid, but hey, it works.
And sometimes, that’s all that counts.
Even by the end, when the horror begins to take center stage, the movie still doesn’t lose itself, mostly because by that point, it knows its own extremities and craziness that it’s decided to throw all caution to the wind and have a go of it. Once again, it works, but it does come from a soft spot in Ducournau’s heart that makes the movie feel like more of an excuse to just show disgusting, bloody stuff, again and again – there’s a story, with characters, and heartfelt emotions, just looking to be understood and developed.
And with Garance Marillier’s Justine, it’s hard not to be compelled. For one, Marillier has this look about her that is both cute and adorable, yet, also a little dangerous. Think the French Chloe Grace Moretz, but without all of the obvious and smart-ass wisecracks – in fact, just watching Marillier on-screen, without her even saying any dialogue, is tense enough and makes it seem like we’re getting to know her character better and better through that way, rather than having to listen to pounds and pounds of dialogue that, eventually, spell everything out. Justine goes through a huge transition throughout the whole movie and it’s Garance Marillier who not only makes us believe in it, but want to see where she goes, what she does, and the types of connections she makes; after all, she’s a smart girl who’s just trying to figure out who, or better yet, what the hell she is.
Same goes for her gay roommate, Rabah Naït Oufella’s Adrien who, despite obviously liking men, also seems to share a lot of scenes with Marillier where the possibility of them having hot, dirty, sweaty, freshman year sex, gets bigger and bigger. He’s a sweet character, though, and isn’t just used to be the “GBF”, or a punchline. Same goes for Ella Rumpf’s Alexia, who is pretty creepy just standing there, but also interesting to watch, because we’re never always sure about her motivations, how she feels, or what she’s going to do next. The movie could have easily been about her, too, but the fact that she’s a supporting character, just goes to show you the kind of strength on behalf of this movie’s writing.
Consensus: Even as silly as it gets, Raw always keeps itself in some grounded-reality, by being both a smart, insightful coming-of-age, as well as a dirty, disgusting and unfiltered body-horror flick, about body-horror.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire