Raw ★★★½

Hooptober 4.0, Film 7/31
2017 Ranked

Perhaps no viewing experience is as jarring and visceral as the one when watching Raw. A French-Belgian co-production directed by Julia Ducournou, Raw is a deeply European work with a slow pace, lots of ecstasy, open sexuality, and a lack of fear in showing shocking violence. A smart look at growing up, finding what makes you happy (perversely enough), and familial strife, Raw is a film that shocks, stuns, and leaves you somehow dying of laughter once it all ends. Above all, it is a film with so many occurrences that make you look away that it becomes hard to even say you saw the film. For about 70% of this film, watching the film through your hands or just flat out looking away is to be expected. Even then, however, Raw is a film that may try a little too hard to shock and stun its audience, but nonetheless, it is one that works with chilling effect.

Heading into the weirdest veterinary school ever, Justine (Garance Marillier) must embark upon a hazing ritual that includes having her room destroyed to get her to go to a party, being forced to eat raw rabbit kidney, being forced to have sex with some random guy while covered in paint, having blood dumped on her, and more, this hazing ritual is one that is beyond eccentric. Yet, it signals the beginning of her journey to self-discovery. A theme that is wrapped up at the end as she is urged to find what works for her, what will be her "solution". In essence, what will make her happy and feel satisfied in life. College is very much this place to discover this and if the school, the people, or the hostile environment surrounding her (even the professors hate her) and her cannibalism (a hyperbole for being different and sticking out) are not what she wants or one she feels happy existing in being a part of in her life. Finding people who accept her, embrace her differences, and celebrate those differences, is what Justine must find and her father hopes she will find. The only catch is that she is a cannibal. Otherwise, this is very much a film about a young girl trying to find out who she is and often being shocked about what comes out.

Often as a result of this journey of self-discovery, Justine often finds herself in direct conflict with her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf). Rarely talking in the beginning except when Alexia forces Justine to eat the raw rabbit kidney, the two are shown as being siblings who did not really keep in touch when the elder Alexia started at the veterinary school prior to Justine's arrival. Now that she is there as well, however, Alexia wants to ensure that Justine has the right experience. Taking her under wing, partying, giving her a dress to meet requirements for parties, and showing her the tricks of Brazilian waxing, Alexia is often a rather good sister. Yet, as she hangs out and texts with Justine's gay roommate Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella), we see the jealousy and rage come out in both of them. Intensely jealous, warning her off of Adrien, eating her finger (wtf), being mocked by Alexia with a cadaver, fighting her in public, and then waking up to a surprise left behind by Alexia, the two of them seem to be in constant competition with one another. A light moment of the two of them trying to pee standing up is even marked with the obvious battle going on between the two. It is a sibling rivalry at its finest and one that often defines this film and Justine's experience at veterinary school. Yet, as with any story of siblings, there are tender moments between the two that show the bond between these sisters. As a result, the film uses this absurd tale of the two young cannibals coming to terms with what they are and finding themselves as a way to explore the unspoken bond between sisters. Though they may be fighting and constantly in competition with one another, even unknowingly with parents or peeing standing up, there is a connection between the two that, when one needs the other, will always take precedence.

Incredibly brutal with violence, Raw - until the end - often handles violence very matter-of-fact. As they perform autopsies on animals or reach their hands in a cow's anus, the veterinarian students seem unbothered by what is occurring and the film exudes the same demeanor. Honestly, it may make this film all the more horrifying as it is positioned as being so normal and typical, with no pomp or circumstance surrounding each introduction of violence. The only time the film stalls a bit to let the impact build up comes in the climactic sequence and in the film's final act, both of which deliver a punch. Nonetheless, in this practically casual violence, Raw finds great horror. It makes it seem so natural to eat a man's bleeding head after a car crash or to bite your sibling in a fight and taste their blood. It is sick, twisted, and deeply unsettling, yet is presented in the same way as a coming-of-age story in which a character discovers a love of music. This disconnect is often what makes Raw so jarring and memorable. By treating these characters and their actions as wholly normal and to be expected of people their age, the film makes itself all the more horrifying due to the lack of disgust shown by the family as this was always the fate awaiting their girls.

Beautifully shot from beginning to end, Raw is a film that plays to two extremes. On one side, there is absolute brightness. In a gorgeous shot at the beginning of the film, we see a road where a person jumps out to cause a car to crash into a tree. Occurring during the day, this moment sets the tone for the film and the style. Largely occurring in the day and in practically absolute-whiteness, the film shows Justine's hazing and much of her class work in stark white classrooms with white coats on people and during the brightness of the day. Even a scene under her bed sheets occurs in the light. Though there are moments of darkness - which represent the opposing extreme, namely when Justine and Alexia explore the room forbidden to students with the lights entirely off - the film's brightness often serves as a great counter to the brutal red blood littered throughout the film's second half. Making it truly stand out and pop off of the screen, Raw manages to shock through this dramatic insertion of color to a film that is often so flat and reliant on a limited array of colors.

Shocking, violent, and rich in thematic depth, Raw is an unconventional coming-of-age film that shows that, perhaps, growing pains and awkwardness are not the worst thing that can come during this period of self-discovery. Perhaps, just hypothetically, one could discover they are a cannibal with an insatiable desire for blood and human meat. Really puts everyone's troubles into perspective, does it not?

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