When a film comes along which captures the hearts of the critics and the public, which garners rave reviews and appears to be universally praised and which gets whopping ratings on the likes of IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, you hope you’re in for something special. But sometimes, you watch those films and think to yourself, “Really? Is that it?”. You scratch your head, wondering what you missed, trying to figure out if you watched the right movie. You just don’t get it. Think Whiplash. Think I Am Love. Think Raw.
Riding a tidal wave of praise, this French arthouse horror tells the story of a young girl, Justine, and her first week at the illustrious veterinarian school which her parents attended and in which her elder sister currently studies. Animal care seems to be high on the family agenda - they are strict vegetarians with only the rebellious sister Alexia having succumbed to meat eating. Justine is awkward and doesn’t fit in, her only ally being her handsome gay roommate Adrien. But when Justine is forced to eat a piece of liver in a fresher’s initiation ceremony, her longing for raw meat becomes more and more extreme until it’s only human flesh and blood which will satisfy her cravings.
Somewhere inside Raw is the film other people seem to have seen but which this reviewer didn’t - a feminist horror where, instead of vampirism standing in as the allegorical take on people not belonging whilst their sexuality is awakening, it’s cannibalism. There’s no doubt that it has the power to shock, the vet school setting ensuring there’s always something grisly happening, from drugged horses to dead dogs being cut open, and at least one scene involving a severed finger is so excruciating it would be hard for anyone not to watch from behind their own.
But problems lie in the nonsensical plot and in characters you can’t wait to see the back of.
If this school reflects the standard of French education then pray your pet never gets ill whilst you’re on holiday there. First time director Julia Ducournau turns it into a hell hole of frat idiots who think nothing of throwing furniture out of windows, torturing freshers with more animal blood than even Carrie had to endure, throwing paint over them and generally behaving like complete arses. It’s extremely annoying. And, apart from that, given what we find out about the family later in the film, it makes absolutely NO SENSE to send Justine there.
The actors put in excellent, committed performances but none of the characters are in the least bit likeable, Adrien apart, (and what a shame he ends up sleeping with Justine rather than just being allowed to be gay - yawn).
In the end, what it’s all about has been addressed so many times in much better horror films, making Raw about as deep as a paper cut, despite reviews suggesting it has things to say about family, body image and society’s view of women. A second viewing might enlighten these themes, but spending time with these people again would be a bloody nightmare.
RAW / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JULIA DUCOURNAU / STARRING: GARANCE MARILLIER, ELLA RUMPF, RABAH NAÏT OUFELLA / RELEASE DATE: 14TH AUGUST