Raw (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Raw (2017)

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Justine's parents drop her off for her first year at the veterinarian school also attended by her older sister Alexia.  The students haze Justine by forcing her to consume meat, leading the once-proud vegetarian to develop a taste for raw flesh that extends beyond animals and into her fellow students.  Julia Ducournau writes the screenplay for and directs Raw, which stars Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf.

The bloodshed of Raw finds its foundation on a story of sisterhood not so far removed from the likes of Frozen.  Elder sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is estranged from her family, seeking comfort in solo adventures of booze and drugs through the nightmarish veterinarian school she attends.  Younger sister Justine (Garance Marillier), still wrapped up in the comforting blanket of her parents' love, arrives at this nightmare a vegetarian before the hazing students force her to consume flesh.  This awakens something inside Justine she's barely able to comprehend, and the only person who may be able to understand has been so ostracized from love that Justine may spiral into a bloodied abyss.

Raw is the first solo feature film from writer / director Julia Ducournau and earns a place in the conversation of great horror alongside Trouble Every Day or The Babadook.  Ducournau moves with comfort in-between horrific scenes of cannibalism and hazing as her subject isn't the acts themselves but the strained bonds of sisterhood that may save Justine.  She can't find solace in any of the institutions her school offers, professors belittle her and doctors give her a quick glance for obvious symptoms before going back to a cigarette right there in the exam room.  Women already have enough trouble getting authorities to take their pain seriously, and the casual way Alexia compares rape of women to monkeys speaks to how thoroughly excommunicated she has been from comfort.

Adults size up the young characters by treating them as sexualized meat, most creepily in a moment where a trucker begins caressing Justine's friend Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella.)

The school of Raw is one of the more foreboding in recent memory.  Nothing is clean, students are forced on all fours to crawl along the dirty concrete, metal doors clang shut while the groan of gears pulls a bound horse up for examination.  One shot, that some might see as unnecessary but sets the tone of Raw perfectly, shows one of those horses strapped to machines and forced to a trot in the dark.  There's no immediate scientific or educational purpose for this and, much like the hazing Justine endures, seems to exist solely to determine just how much an organic body can take.

Ducournau flips the script on coming-of-age awakenings, typically with conversations or images of menstrual blood, by focusing on their shared lust for human flesh.  The closeups of Justine, her world consumed with the tantalizing possibility of sinking her teeth into skin, speak to an undeniable sexual thirst given physical form as Justine begins to bleed and break out into rashes.  Despite the cannibalistic content Raw is more consumed with lust than the comparatively tame Fifty Shades series.  Justine's lust is further complicated by a final shot that throws the sister' hunger into painful focus, suggesting that if any authority figure asked what the sisters were going through they might have found a way to safely curb their addiction to flesh.

The specificity of eroticism and violence in Raw works as a metaphor for the ostracized feeling many women go through during their teenage years.  But the metaphor of pulsating life surrounding death, made painfully clear when Alexia taunts the drunken Justine with a corpse, speaks to desires we all have but are unable to articulate.  That's why I keep coming back to that final shot and how the sisters' tragedy could have been avoided.  We all have our kinks, some with a greater potential for danger than others, but no matter the kink there are partners willing to help satiate the thirst in a controlled environment.

Alexia and Justine are denied that comfort.  The warmest scene of bonding in Raw also centers around body fluids in a different way as Alexia teaches Justine how to urinate standing up.  Gross?  Sure, but in its own way heartwarming to see how each sister could have guided the other to a healthier tomorrow.  Justine may be our primary PoV throughout Raw, but don't neglect the look of betrayal and understanding on Alexia's face after this encounter when Justine finally succumbs to the taste of human flesh.  Alexia goes on to teach Justine how to deal with the addiction the only way she knows how, and Alexia has been without the support of her family for so long it takes an act of sabotage to see just how far gone Alexia is.

This is as close to normal as the classrooms of Raw get, with a hint at the birth of something new in the middle of this pale blue classroom.

Make no bones about it - Raw is unflinching in its nauseating presentation far beyond the bloody consumption.  The music refuses to make the sister' pain infantile like so many of their classmates.  Jim Williams - who did the music for Raw - blends sounds with desires, turning gentle acoustic plucking on the soundtrack into a primal groan, and the incessant honking of a car horn turns to a horrific wail as Justine witnesses how far her sister has gone without the love of family.  All this serves as a reminder of how the seemingly healthy lives of the sisters has taken a tragic turn, and the surface level enjoyment of their drug-fueled hazing hides tastes no amount of drugs will satiate.

Cheesy as it sounds - the only thing capable of saving either sister is love.  The institutions designed to educate and protect them only serve as a conduit for the hazing rituals of elder students.  Their family is useless, opting to hide the hunger instead of find a way to deal with it.  Raw ends as it must, with two sisters understanding one another's hunger so potently that they must embrace self-destruction or sacrifice.  The tragedy lies in how easily this could have been prevented, if only someone bothered to care.

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Raw (2017)

Screenplay written and directed by Julia Ducournau.
Starring Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf.

Posted by Andrew

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