Raw ★★★½

So weird, even more so because everything is presented as if it were the normal. Raw (France) is a categorizable horror film, but not a conventional one. It is an avante-garde sociological horror that is open to countless interpretations. My interpretation is that this is what university colleges would look like if hazing fraternities had more power than the professors. Everything about the everyday cycle pushes students to be more aggressive, more hardened, once the social scene shapes a bully and sheep contrast between elders and underclassmen. The protagonist is Justine (Garance Marillier), a vegetarian at veterinarian school who immediately learns how to cut up animals and experiment on them. Early on, she is forced by hazing to eat a rabbit kidney and to be doused in animal blood. Nonetheless, she quickly adapts to her environment. She also learns to love the taste of meat, all kinds of it.

Justine goes to school with her rebel sister (Ella Rumpf) and is paired with a male roommate (Rabah Nait Oufella) which is acceptable because, as it is tersely explained, he is gay so it does not matter. He turns out to be bi-sexual, but that’s more his issue than anybody else’s. As for classes, the professor and student relationship is, well, rather impersonal. One professor, however, boldly tells Justine that high expectations are on her because of her parents’ credentials, and that also he hopes that a person like her fails. What’s strange is that Justine, who subsequently gets into the habit of blood-drinking once she gets sloshed after hours, seems like a person who would succeed in any society – either this twisted society or our realistic society. She is steadfast and determined, and has rather strong and tactful clinical observations when it comes to any challenge.

Deserving lots of praise is Marillier, who has an incredibly effective presence for this kind of film: placid, unsuspecting, bookwormish. A sheltered girl ready though to let it all hang out.

Raw, I think, IS a film that could in the right mindset be more disturbing than “Children of Men” or “A Clockwork Orange.” It is bleak and relentless, and blasé about it. This was a rare case where I hated watching the movie because it was squirmy, galling and stomach-turning, and I don’t squirm easy. This film also has as many cerebral ideas perhaps as those aforementioned films, and those are notable and commendable comparisons. Raw is not for everyone, but I think it will have a place in film history.

What do I think the film is saying? The hazing ritual can become the main institution of a university, to throw students into the hard knocks of life unsparingly. This is coupled with the worldview that the young of today are less empathetic and less fearful of countering mindless authority than in any generation before us. As I’m in the middle of viewing it: I’m left anxious to try and get through this film as fast as I can (I nearly want to skip past the grotesque parts), but I cannot stop watching. I was surprised at myself by how uncomfortable I was watching a forced closet makeout session between a young man and young woman while splattered in paint.

Raw is arguably repetitious in its degeneracy, but it has you wondering what one has to do in order to go too far and commit a crime punishable by the State? I got some scant answers on that. The film does spring surprise reveals of the other characters, although I think it is just a tad too genre faithful with what it's doing at the end. It's a very good ending, some characters that serve as microcosms of a wretched society do shock us, but I wanted more explicit shocking revelations about the world.

The film’s director is Julia Ducournau, her first full-length feature.

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