“The film so shocking that apparently some theater chains distributed barf bags to patrons as they entered the theater!”
When I first heard about that, I figured that had to be a PR stunt, proof that the 70s grindhouse ethos was still alive in 2017. However, upon doing a little research, I came across several reports that some audience members actually had fainted and/or became physically ill while watching this French-Belgian cannibal film. Apparently, Raw was just too raw for them.
Now, I have to admit that I may be jaded as the result of spending the last few years watching countless Italian horror films. Whether the eating was being done by zombies or an undiscovered tribe in the Amazon Rain Forest, the Italians pretty much perfected the use of cannibalism of a plot device. And, with its vibrant color scheme and its emphasis on the blood, guts, and muscles that lay directly underneath the skin, Raw certainly does feel like a bit of an homage to those old Italian films. However, the film takes a rather clinical (though, at time, dryly humorous) approach to its subject. In that way, Raw has more in common with the sleek body horror of early David Cronenberg than the films of Umberto Lenzi or Ruggero Deodato.
It tells the story of two sisters, both of whom are attending a demanding veterinary school. At first, the two sisters might seem like opposites. Justine (Garance Marillier) is the younger of the two. She is driven to succeed and, as a result, has experienced little over the course of her short life. She is not only a virgin but she is also a lifelong vegetarian. She has never tasted meat, both literally and metaphorically. She has an awkward crush on her roommate, Adrien (Rabah Naït Oufella), despite the fact that Adrien is gay. Her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), appears to be the wilder of the two. The dynamic between Justine and Alexa is a familiar and it’s well-portrayed by Marillier and Rumpf. Anyone who has a sister will recognize it. Despite the strong bond that the two share, it’s obvious that a good deal of Justine’s drive is the result of feeling as if she has to make up for Alexia’s lack of direction.
Of course, Alexia and Justine are not total opposites. In fact, they have one thing very much in common. They both find themselves craving human flesh. At the start of the film, Justine freaks out when, as part of a hazing ritual, she is splashed with blood and forced to eat a rabbit kidney. It leads to her getting a nasty rash, the result of food poisoning. However, as her father tells her, once an animal has tasted blood, it will never be the same again. Soon, Justine is craving both meat and sex, which leads to everything from eating raw chicken to almost biting off a guy’s lower lip. And, of course, there’s the time that Alexia accidentally cuts off her finger…
Raw is a movie that mixes cannibalism with a coming-of-age story. Imagine Mona Lisa Smile if the cast ended up eating each other. (Actually, that’s a terrible and inaccurate comparison. I just liked the way it sounded.)
Yes, Raw is graphic. If you can’t handle the sight of blood then maybe you shouldn’t watch Raw because Raw is drenched in it. That said, for me, the scene that left me trembling was when Justine got a Brazilian wax. Seriously, that had me screaming in shared pain…
Raw is a well-acted, well-directed, and often a rather audacious film. For me, the most powerful part of the film is not the mix of flesh-eating and sexual awakening. It’s the relationship between Justine and Alexia. Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf are totally believable as sisters and every detail of their relationship rings true. You may not agree with some of the choices that the sisters make in the film but they all ring true.
I recommend Raw. I’m sure some people will find it to be disgusting but, to me, this is a well-made and intelligent film that deserves to be seen.