Raw (2016)

Julia Ducournau | 1hr 39min

It is not just the contents of Justine’s “snacks” that might cause one to cringe in abject horror; it is also the ravenous hunger with which she consumes organic matter, both living and dead, which churns the stomach. On its grotesque surface, Raw is a straight-up cannibal movie, albeit one that steps away from the arid American landscape of The Hills Have Eyes and instead lands us in an unruly French college campus. The Exorcist may in fact be the more apt comparison here, as Julia Ducournau’s psychological interrogation of Justine’s emerging demonic appetite turns the first-year vet student into the victim of a possession which can’t be expelled, but rather just temporarily satiated.

Ducournau’s provocative metaphor for a female sexual awakening underlies the formal strength of Raw’s narrative, pushing Justine down a path of increasingly horrific acts of consumption. With her vegetarianism and virginity both made explicit in early scenes, a link is drawn between the two – both states of being defined by the absence of something perceived to be a corrupting influence, either by society or Justine’s own family. She is a blank slate of purity for Ducournau to slowly corrupt over the course of the film, particularly challenging her in the rowdy college setting of hormonal young adults where, at least initially, she doesn’t fit in. When she enters a party early on, Ducournau tracks her for a full two minutes through flashing lights and scantily-clad bodies, the image of exposed flesh visually trapping her wherever she turns effectively setting up the inescapability of Justine’s budding sexuality in this hedonistic world.

A sexual awakening hitting like a demonic possession, terrifyingly captured in a cannibalistic metaphor.

Justine’s cannibalistic cravings are further tied to her budding sexual urges through the repeated emphasis of inserting another human’s body parts into oneself, underlining the feminine, carnal desire of these acts. In the broad light of day, both are considered extremely shameful, and so even as she discovers that these new impulses are not unique to her own journey, she simultaneously realises how those other women who are similarly affected learn to deal with them in secret. While one targets strangers, another treats her husband as a living charcuterie board, willing to let himself be mutilated to satisfy her needs. For all of them, the qualities of self-control and elegance which define traditional femininity makes their submission to primal urges all the more humiliating, especially as such traits are more akin to those of wild beasts.

“An animal that has tasted human flesh isn’t safe. If he likes it, he’ll bite again.”

As for all the other young students living on college campus, Ducournau leaves a faint suggestion that they too may possess their own guilty pleasures we will never find out. While lumbering back to their dormitories after a big night out, they cloak themselves in blankets like vampires hiding from the rising sun, lest it should expose whatever shameful acts they performed under the cover of darkness. The awkward transition of learning to live with uncomfortable changes in one’s psychological state is always lurking within the subtext of Raw, but Ducournau’s ability to specifically bring formal complexity in drawing out the visceral body horror of female sexuality makes for a confronting descent into parts of the human mind that are entirely untameable.

The students make their way home after a big night, shielding their guilt from the world.

Raw is available to stream on Stan, Binge, and Shudder, and is available to rent or buy on iTunes, YouTube, and Google Play.

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