By Tom Moore
Generally, when news breaks at a film festival that a film gets a standing ovation, sometimes even between 10 to 20 minutes, it’s pretty clear that it’s well-received. If no news really breaks for the film or bad reviews come out, it’s easily labeled as bad. However, as a horror fan, when news breaks that a film makes people sick when they watch it and possibly even need medical attention, there’s that gut feeling you get that this film is special. This was the reaction when writer/director Julia Ducournau’s feature debut, “Raw,” made an appearance at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. Personally, I remember hearing about “Raw” and being intrigued by its rave reviews and reaction but have always struggled to pull the trigger and give it a watch.
As much of a horror fan as I am, “Raw’s” cannibalistic horror is intriguing, but the idea of throwing up is not. However, Ducournau’s debut definitely deserves a watch and since October is the perfect time to highlight women in horror, there’s no better time to see what “Raw” is all about – and now after seeing it, it definitely maintains its reputation.
Hard to watch is definitely an understatement for “Raw” and it really surprised me how well its horrifying cannibalistic elements come from its simple premise. The film follows Justine (Garance Marillier), an innocent teenager that begins to study at a wild and strange veterinarian school. Feeling out of place and seeking some acceptance in this new environment, Justine attempts to follow and obey the tough hazing rituals – which includes having blood poured on them and having to eat strange meats. Being a lifelong vegetarian, these tasks are not so easy for Justine, but he begins to garner quite a taste for meat. A simple liking turns raw though as her craving for meat takes a grotesque turn when she behind to hunger for human flesh.
Frankly, what makes “Raw” such an effective horror film is how, well, raw it can be in depicting Justine’s slow-growing cannibalistic nature. Not that it’s any surprise, but “Raw” can be downright disgusting at times to watch, but its gross nature isn’t ever played as weird or over the top.
“Raw’s” cannibalistic horror is intriguing, but the idea of throwing up is not. However, Ducournau’s debut definitely deserves a watch and since October is the perfect time highlight women in horror.”
Everything is captured in a serious light and it makes for a much more effective and realistic cannibal story. The second Justine starts to eat raw meat and stares at Alexia’s (Ella Rumpf) finger in an absolute hunger, you just feel your stomach-turning. From there, the film becomes full-on paranoia as a viewer as every interaction that Justine has leaves you nauseous about how it will go down. The blood and gore effects are great and really make each scene definitely not for the squeamish.
“Raw” doesn’t just rely on its gross concept and execution to leave its mark on viewers, though, as Marillier’s performance that stems from Ducournau’s great direction is absolutely horrifying to see unfold. The way Marillier conveys Justine’s growing hunger is downright bone-chilling at times and level of commitment she has to some of the more mentally challenging scenes, which there’s no shortage of, is just plain awesome.
“Frankly, what makes “Raw” such an effective horror film is how, well, raw it can be in depicting Justine’s slow growing cannibalistic nature. Not that it’s any surprise, but “Raw” can be downright disgusting at times to watch.”
The scene of Alexia teasing her with the flesh of a dead man during a party is incredibly disturbing and the ravenous and zombified face that Justine has throughout the film is haunting. Ducournau is also incredibly effective in creating a strong atmosphere with the help of cinematographer Ruben Impens with a color palette and music that’s fun with dark undertones waiting to come out.
What really makes “Raw” a truly horrifying watch, though, is the ending as it will literally leave viewers shook. Not only is the reveal of Alexia killing and eating a part of Justine’s roommate Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella) disturbing because of how surprising it feels, but the way Justine just can’t bring herself to kill her is sort of sad somehow. The real jaw-dropper comes from the film’s final twist that Justine’s hunger for flesh might be more than skin deep. It’s an absolutely harrowing moment that will stick with viewers and will definitely stick with me as it might actually be one of my favorite horror endings.
In some ways, it’s unfortunate that “Raw” is such a hard movie to recommend as it’s raw depiction of cannibalism makes it definitely not for the squeamish – and especially for vegetarians/vegans. However, it’s this rawness that makes the film horror at its finest and one of the strongest debuts in the genre for Ducournau. Thankfully, Ducournau has already announced her next film, “Titane,” and with the film shooting for a release next year, it easily one of the most anticipated horror films in the near future from a strong new voice in the genre.