An intense and undefinable blend of skilled shotmaking, ramping discomfort and disturbing juxtapositions, Julia Ducournau‘s coming-of-age horror, RAW is vibrant, violent and vivaciously grotesque.
The intriguing prologue shows someone throwing themselves into a road to deliberately cause a car crash. Before long, we join Justine (Garance Marillier), a young woman being taken to join her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) at the vet school where her parents learned their trade. En route, seemingly on the same road where the opening crash took place, she is accidentally served a meatball in a cafe – much to the disgust of her and her vegetarian parents. To further compound matters, as part of their extensive and elaborate hazing rituals she is forced to eat a raw rabbit kidney (egged on by her now far-from-veggie sister), which brings her out in a painful rash. From there, her curiosity and her complex relationship with flesh seem to grow exponentially.
Ducournau’s visuals and the sound editing also build a sense of dread and deliver shock to scenarios which could have been plain ludicrous if not handled with such craft.
Throughout, RAW has a symbolism that lingers and a mastery in creating an atmosphere where its plot and characters thrive. At face value, the plot itself – young vegetarian girl experiments with cannibalism at vet school – is completely batty, and that is not an unfair assertion. Where RAW excels, however, is in juxtaposing this with a teenage awakening, both more generally and specifically sexually. Although not the first film, horror or otherwise, to use this allegorical framework, Ducournau’s visuals and the sound editing also build a sense of dread and deliver shock to scenarios which could have been plain ludicrous if not handled with such craft.
The soundtrack hums with oddly discordant organs, perfectly tuning the shots framed by Ducournau. Something as seemingly innocuous as a dog walking into frame is now unsettling. A waxing scene, a staple of the comedy genre, is suddenly laced with tension. Neither of these would be possible if the groundwork hadn’t been laid so expertly. Ahead of Justine’s acceleration of her tartare tendencies, the film’s palette seems to move to a redder hue, but only after slowly dialing up the disconcerting imagery. A disturbing scene of students crawling on all fours here, a fleeting shot of grotesque preserved animal corpses there. A harmless enough scenario involving students throwing paint on each other becomes a strange inverse foreshadowing. Blue-painted Justine and her yellow-painted peer are told not to come out of a cupboard until they’re green, signalling an incredibly leading absence of the primary colour not mentioned.
All of this needs to be underpinned by the central performances. The principal pairing of Marillier’s Justine and Rumpf’s Alexia, alongside Justine’s gay roommate Adrian (Rabah Nait Oufella), don’t let those behind the camera down. Marillier in particular carries the responsibility of conveying the stirring mixture of anxiety and growing bravado required by her character.
Watching Justine’s gaping maw be fought off mid-intercourse, before she sinks her teeth into her own arm to satisfy her bloodlust, is an arresting sight…
There is a long tradition of food and sexuality being mixed – in ways varying from mundane to gross via the aphrodisiacal. RAW plays on this with its performers in an unvarnished and strong manner. The film’s most lingering images and turning points come straight off the back of, or during, sexual experiences: preparing for, during or after sex. Watching Justine’s gaping maw be fought off mid-intercourse, before she sinks her teeth into her own arm to satisfy her bloodlust, is an arresting sight – its impact delivered by both director and actor.
RAW is not merely the cliched ‘more than the sum of its parts’: any one element of the film acts as an exponent for the others. The teenage sexual allegory heightens the horror, and the use of colour and sound amplifies the actors’ performances. RAW is anything but undercooked. The result is a grisly, bloody film that mixes carnivores with the carnal to enormous effect.