Raw is the story of a young woman learning things about herself, her family, her sexuality, veterinarianism and the procurement of human flesh for her own consumption and satiation.
Despite the visceral, sensational and exploitable qualities of the subject, there are surprisingly few movies about cannibalism. I’m sure the film industry, not to mention the voracious appetites of the horror audience, could take a whole lot more.
Nonetheless, I did still manage to come out of Julia Ducournau’s Raw thinking, and being disappointed to think, that much of what I had just seen seemed overly familiar. In at least the broader narrative strokes, as outlined in above, there wasn’t really anything to surprise or confound Raw‘s viewers. This is particularly true if we do assume, as I think we can, that many of them will be very hungry for and yet already really well-fed on ‘body horror.’
This is a college movie with well-known hazing tropes. Its blend of sexual awakening story with transgressional urges is well-worn to the point of inappropriate comfort. Even the sibling tensions played out bring to mind other, much loved films – Ginger Snaps most of all, and there’s no point beating around the bush or pretending the surprising amount of crossover between Ginger Snaps and Raw isn’t there, even while the films do diverge hugely too.
Why the film works at all – and, in large part, it works rather well – is almost entirely down to the execution, especially in terms of structure, styling, and casting.
The structural successes are strongest in the first third of the film, where scenes are very often posed as questions, then later prove to be useful, once new questions arise, as answers. I wasn’t even sure if the opening shots were part of a flashback or a flashforward for some time, which could have felt frustratingly mechanical but, thanks to the relevance and thematic, emotional importance of the puzzle, actually kept me engaged. On the other hand, there’s a bit of a fumble in the set-up for a final twist, all of which is plain and clear enough to just telegraph that pay-off.
Ducournau and her collaborators have styled the film effectively throughout, both in sound and vision. There’s a little of the saturated colour-soak you’ll know from say, The Neon Demon, to give just one recent, blindingly obvious point of comparison, but this is married to other textures, and the conjunction is often interesting, and even more often than that, striking. One shot – the one with the totally incidental, non-spoiler eyeball licking – seems like something Dario Argento could have staged for Suspiria if he was making last year and really wanted to include a Clockwork Orange homage.
And thanks to the film’s robust look and sound, its feel is often compelling – at best, in just the way that the urge to vomit is compelling. Meat is often very well depicted here as meat. Human meat, sometimes, but still meat. Believing that is key. How you, the viewer, will react to the eating of human meat is central.
Ducournau is clearly the most valuable player herself, but the score by Jim Williams deserves recognition, not least for being memorable, arguably even ‘catchy.’ Some of his cues are dynamic, others are more singular and simple, but the net result is powerful, especially at the peaks of the music’s aggressive, claustrophobic intensity.
Garance Miller makes her feature debut in the role of Julie, the trainee vet tempted by the taste of human flesh. Unfussy, likeable enough and relevant, Julie makes for a great subject. What is happening to her is familiar, but there’s an honesty to Miller’s portrayal that curbs any sense that this is just a genre exercise. Laurent Lucas pops up in a smaller role as her father and I wish the role had gone to somebody less recognisable, at the very least so I didn’t pay attention to the minor prosthetics he was wearing on his face and think about those rather than just accepting the character on face value.
Raw might be a little warmed-over, but there’s still nutritional value in there and it certainly makes for an attractive dish, smeared all over the plate like cutting-edge-cuisine. And, yes, those might be the hoariest old food images you can imagine, but remember: this is a film about eating, for sure, but it is a film about eating people.
The most expensive steak you can buy will be served to you like its mana from heaven, but it’s still a big chunk of corpse. It’s in working both of these angles in tension with one another that Raw works best.