Raw is a horror/drama film written and directed by French filmmaker Julia Ducournau. The film gain popularity after its premiere screening at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. The film was met with critical acclaim upon its release in France on March 15th, 2017.
Justine, a lifetime vegetarian, is off to her first years of veterinary school. Driven by her father and mother, also vegetarians, she expects to be met by her sister, Alexia. Alexia has been at the school for a couple years now but does not show up to greet her younger sister. Justine certain that she will be fine, ushers her parents away and ventures out to begin her schooling. At her dorm, she meets her gay roommate Adrien, not soon after chaos ensues. This veterinary school is known for the older, more experienced students hazing the new bloods in a ‘rush week’. The student’s beds are thrown out the windows and are herded outside like animals to a party where they are not allowed to leave until the next morning. There Justine encounters her older sister and her dog. They hang out at the party and Alexia shows Justine old class photos of all the previous graduates when they were going through the same first year hazing, including their parents.
The next day, Justine and her peers are put through further hazing. Old blood is dumped on them and they are told to eat raw rabbit kidneys. Justine refuses but Alexia shames her in front of the others, forcing her to eat one of the kidneys. This causes Justine to become ill and develop a nasty rash over her body. Prescribed with a cream to help the rash, she hopes to go back to her studies as normal. Something has changed though, Justine can’t seem to satisfy her hunger. Regardless of what she eats, her mind is drawn to meat and can’t seem to turn away from it.
Things escalate as Justine’s hunger becomes unbearable; from eating meat to moving into eating raw chicken from her roommate’s fridge. In a freak grooming incident, Alexia’s finger is cut off and passes out. In shock, Justine calls an ambulance, but not before examining the severed finger of her sister. She plays with it at first, letting it drip blood onto her hand, before licking it off. This sends her into a frenzy of sucking the blood directly from the finger and then chewing on it like a chicken wing. This does not go unnoticed; Alexia wakes to find her sister devouring her digit.
Justine begins to change more, her desire to fit in at her school and be accepted is matched by her hunger for meat. No longer desiring everyday, normal food that is available, she craves flesh more and more. She attempts to contain this urge, but soon finds it overwhelming. Her strange hunger emerges in sudden and extreme ways. Biting lips, and attempting to take chunks out of her lover before climaxing..
The cinematography in Raw is gorgeous. The shots range from wide shots detailing the space and uncomfortably tight, following Justine intimatly through this journey. Ducournau is fully aware of the space that our character is in and uses it to the films advantage. Certain scenes where Justine is around her fellow students make her feel small and isolated. This puts emphasis on her loneliness for most of the film. Other shots, like later in the film, are close and personal to the point almost of suffocation. One scene in particular has Justine wrapped in her blankets one night, apparently asleep but tormented. It isn’t clear the context of this scene, she may be having a nightmare or attempting to sleep besides the changes she feels within herself. The camera is up close, you are in those sheets with her as she struggles and tosses inside. You feel the suffocation, comfort dissipates and you as the audience feel that need to free yourself from the situation.
Color also plays a big role in Raw. The vibrant use of blues, reds, yellows, and dim mood lighting to emphasize a mood. Later into the film, Justine ventures into a room where senior students are partying alongside paint splattered first years. One student notices her and immediately splashes her with blue paint. She is then slammed into a room with a male student splattered with yellow paint. Blue is known in cinema to be a calming color, representing a more calm or serene setting in film whereas yellow represents danger or an impending danger to come. Artistic moviegoers would catch-on as Justine attempts to contain her urges; she is blue and calm but when faced with yellow her urges seem to surface. The guy touches her and makes out with her, forcing the yellow to taint her calm blue. Again this is something deeper to the film, that takes a bit of an eye to see.
Much like a typical coming of age film, Raw is about Justine and how she changes. The film wants to capture that maturing adolescence through her growing cannibalism. Much of the film’s first shots center around her being ushered by those around her. Whether it’s her parents at the beginning or clinging to her sister once she has arrived at school. As the film goes further and further into her maturing and independence, Justine begins to lash out and explore herself. Along with her hunger for meat she starts drinking more, partying with the other students, and taking risks that affect her in the long term. She regrets her actions and questions the consequences after the fact. Much like any maturing youth, Raw depicts growing up and finding out who you are, but in this case- with fresh meat and plenty of gore.
Fans of French Extremism will find a lot in Raw, from it’s cinematography and use of color to the underlying conversation at hand. We follow Justine as she matures into the young cannibal she is at heart. This can be a double-edged sword for the story. The everyday horror fiend might find it hard to grasp the underlying themes and choices that the director takes. Although a great film, it does suffer from some odd editing choices. There are moments of dialogue cut abruptly and rushed ahead to the next scene. This can be jarring and take the viewer out of the experience. Despite these, Raw is a film not to be missed.
Raw is currently streaming on Netflix. The film stars Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, and Laurent Lucas.