Raw is a body horror movie like no other with its dark tone that allows for moments of levity and profound themes
Note to self: never attend French veterinary school. If it’s anything like Julia Ducournau depicts in Raw, then I’m not sure how France has any veterinarians at all. That’s because the often bloody hazing and jaw-dropping foray into cannibalism — literally, my jaw dropped at points — are filmed unflinchingly and almost too convincingly to get past. However, the brutality of the visuals in the film is offset by the surprisingly profound subtext of the film’s coming-of-age narrative. Raw will shock and surprise you in the way you expect, but also there is truly no preparation for the experience that follows when you begin the movie.
Shot with a certain sense of surrealism in its world, Raw follows first-year veterinary student Justine (Garance Marillier — she’s quite a revelation) as she navigates the truly mad world of hazing that the prestigious school (the one her parents attended) holds so dear — even the teachers turn a cheek. Some of the hazing rituals include kidnapping students in the middle of the night, dumping blood on them like it’s the prom in Carrie, and making them eat raw rabbit liver. That last one is particularly a problem for Justine considering she and her family — Mother (Joana Preiss), Father (Laurent Lucas), and older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf), who is also a student at the school and part of the later years who are carrying out the hazing — are vegetarians. However, Alexia forces her to eat it. This opens her up to the craving of raw meat — she’s later seen devouring raw chicken — and eventually cannibalism. One horrifying Brazilian wax gone wrong later and Justine is quickly spiraling out of control as she attempts to fill her appetite.
What makes Raw so unique from other body horror movies is its symbolic root in a coming-of-age story. It portrays a woman coming into her sexuality in a way we’ve certainly never seen before — we rarely see sexual awakening from the female perspective and because of the… well, cannibalism. In one scene we see Justine dancing in front of the mirror uncomfortable to a song that has the line, “I like to bang the dead.” We all go through our awkward phases. Throughout the lean running time of Raw, we watch Justine blossom into her feminity as her taste for flesh also blossoms. However, if you strip away the horror elements of the movie, you still have a compelling character study of a girl learning about herself set against the backdrop of the insanity of French veterinary schools.
Ducournau finds humor in even the most horrifying scenes in the movie and beauty in the overall bleak location. It’s a virtue in her directing. She makes the most of every beat of this movie. That is also thanks to Marillier’s strong performance. And thankfully for us, though I think there’s a pretty clear interpretation that works for me, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other ways to view Raw. Even taken at face value, it’s an incredibly compelling horror movie that feels fresh in a way that many horror movies in this Golden Age have felt. It’ll surprise you, make you laugh, and make you cringe in all the best ways. And in the final moments, it’ll make a grab for your mind and stay with you long after it cuts to black.