I have always been a strong defender of horror movies: even though 90% of them are mediocre low-budget productions made with the sole purpose to get money from teenagers who only want cheap jumpscares, there is also that 10% that uses genre conventions to explore deeper and darker themes. Most recently we had The Babadook, It Follows, The Witch, The Wailing, Under The Shadow, and now Raw.
Raw (a.k.a. Grave) is a Belgian movie, and the debut of writer-director Julia Ducornau. The film has garnered quite the reputation during its festival run, for some audience members were reported getting sick and nauseous during the screenings. Even though I highly recommend you go watch this film as soon as you are done reading this review, there are a couple of disturbing moments and very effective use of gore, but the goal of the movie is not to scare the viewer. Still, if cannibalism bothers your core, skip this altogether.
The story follows Justine (Garance Marillier), who goes to study at the same veterinarian school that her parents attended and where her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) still is. The hazing ritual for the rookies is quite intense, and it ends with each of them being forced to eat a piece of meat. The only problem is that Justine has never tasted meat in her life, and, after being forced to eat a rabbit’s kidney by her sister, she starts to grow a stronger hunger for flesh.
Cannibalism has been talked in so many ways in cinema, and the most popular examples are the 80s Italian cannibal movies that shocked the world with their graphic and exploitative violence. However, Ducornau uses the awoken taste for human flesh of Justine to tell a coming of age story. Our main character has always been a vegetarian because of her parents, and now that she is free of their leash, her repressed hunger and sexuality explode in a very unhealthy way. I have known some people of my age that had always been sheltered from real-life by their parents, but, as soon as they went to college, they started acting in very unnatural and borderline animalistic ways, feeling the need to satisfy all their closeted feelings and emotions.
At the core of the movie is the relationship between Justine and Alexia, beautifully portrayed by the two actresses. Garance Marillier carries the entire movie on her shoulders, and you can see her grow from a timid young girl to a sexual predator, mostly through subtle changes in her movements and mannerisms. Ella Rumpf plays a conflicted character, and her chemistry with Garance is so believable that they really do feel like two sisters. The rest of the cast does a fine job, with Rabah Nait Oufella as a standout as the gay roommate of Justine.
Technically speaking, the movie is truly impressive. The camera moves slowly, there are plenty of wide shots, and even a couple of impressive long takes. The use of color is stunning, as more and more red is used as the story moves further. The sound design is effective in disgusting the audience (even more so than the gory and believable, but never overused, practical effects), and the soundtrack adds a surreal tone to most of the picture, perfectly highlighting more intense moments.
There really is nothing more to say about Raw, for I do not want to spoil anything more about it. It is a movie that is going to stick with you (for better or worse), and the story of sisterhood and coming-of-age is one of the most original and earnest ones I have seen since last year’s Sing Street. If you are not a fan of more art-house/foreign movies, gore, or movies that are giant metaphors for something else, you are going to hate this. Fans of good horror and good cinema in general who do not have weak stomachs are going to enjoy this quite a lot. Easily another one of my favorites of this year.
Visual Effects: 9
Violence & Gore: 9
Sex & Nudity: 8
Drugs & Profanity: 6
Intensity & Horror: 8