I should begin by clarifying that Julia Ducournau’s Raw is not for the faint-hearted. The camera greedily gorges itself on all things bodily, whether it be eye-licking, a pissing contest, animal dissections or a particularly horrible scene involving a slimy rope of hair being pulled out of a girl’s throat. Oh, and there’s blood. Lots and lots of blood.
The film follows Justine, a strict vegetarian, in her first week as a student vet. Forced to eat a raw rabbit’s kidney as part of a severely degrading hazing the students are subjected to, Justine is set upon a path of carnivorous transformation.
Raw fully justifies its graphic body horror with its sheer entertainment value. There are shades of last year’s The Neon Demon in the way that the film keeps pushing its delightfully shocking moments, although the gender politics of Raw are far less dubious than Refn’s film. Perhaps a better point of reference is Carrie, a teasing allusion to which occurs early on in the film when blood is poured over the students. Like Carrie, Raw is a film about trying to fit in in a hostile teenage environment. Justine’s lust for flesh becomes about finding her identity, with unsubtle hints that her appetite is primarily of a sexual nature.
Garance Marillier’s brilliant performance as Justine holds the film together and manages to ground it even at its most extreme. It is also through Marillier that we come to understand the film’s central, subversive suggestion: that the real horror of the tale is in the conformity university imposes, and that Justine’s meat-eating metamorphosis is a tale of empowerment.
You have to admire first time director Julia Ducournau for going to such lengths to film some scenes, even though the message doesn’t always land. The subtextual allusions to homophobia, eating disorders and colonialism feel forced, as if used to disguise the fact a lot of the imagery is either empty or too obvious. Likewise, it has its fair share of memorable moments; a brilliant set-piece involving a Brazilian wax gone wrong invokes body horror to make a powerful commentary on the beauty standards society subjects women to. However, scenes sometimes get a little silly, as in the ridiculous and unnecessary final scene.
Raw makes for a very tasty watch and I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a future horror cult classic. Ultimately it’s slightly let down by a lack of substance. There’s a lot of blood, but Raw is a little less meaty than it thinks it is.
All Films reviewed at Cineworld, Edinburgh