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Monday, October 5, 2020

Review: Raw

Director: Julia Docournau

Screenplay: Julia Docournau

Year: 2016

The wave of the New French Extremity took the world of horror cinema by surprise when movies like “High Tension” (“Haute Tension”), “Inside” (“À l'intérieur”), and “Martyrs” were released, where they take a raw and graphic style for presenting violence, sex, and psychological problems, while also exposing socio-political issues. “Raw” (“Grave”) arrives sometime later after the peak of the wave of this movement that clearly influenced it and with which it shares some characteristics. 

Justine is a young woman who grew up in a strictly vegetarian family, who starts studying in a veterinary school where her sister also studies. As part of the welcoming hazing, she is forced to ignore her conviction to be a vegetarian and eat a raw rabbit liver. The liver initially causes her an allergic reaction but later awakens an uncontrollable desire for eating meat. 

The way “Raw” was promoted with news of people fainting and vomiting when presented in movie festivals creates a false expectation of what this movie really is. Maybe after so many years of consuming horror content, I have grown more tolerant of gore and extremism, but all these news are exaggerated and outmost detrimental for what this excellent movie is in its own merit. I don’t want to minimize the content or the gore in the film, which is well-crafted and creates a constant discomfort because of its realism. 

Instead of the cannibalistic chaos promoted through all the exaggerated reactions, “Raw” is a coming of age and self-discovery movie, with strokes of social commentary about self-perception, peer pressure, eating disorders, and sexuality. Instead of a movie that depends on gore and visual violence, the story from Julia Docournau (“Mange”) is rooted in the development of its main character and its conflicts, for which the gore acts as a compliment. Docournau doesn’t abuse the body horror and knows how to add it in specific and unexpected points to cause impact and surprise, which she gets thanks to the amazing makeup and special effects that achieve a level of realism that make the viewer squirm in all of these scenes.

Plenty of the credit for how the chaotic spiral towards carnivorism that Justin falls into is for the director and screenwriter, but the work of Garance Marillier (“Ad Vitam”) as Justine and Ella Rumpf (“Freud”) as her sister Alexia cannot be ignored. The contrast in the personalities of each is visible since the first moment, but both are in the same process of knowing themselves as a person and how their personalities are affected by their surroundings and influences, not to mention their peculiar genetic appetite. The charisma both offer to their characters make them balance each other and make them likable even under the lens of what they are going through and what they are capable of doing. 

“Raw” is much more than a cannibalistic festival as it was promoted, and those who get to it expecting to see constant extreme gore will be disappointed, although the influence of the New French Extremity cinema is evident. Instead, “Raw”, intelligently and emotionally, explores coming of age and the opportunities of self-discovery that arrive at this life stage, especially when away from the protection of the close family, as well as serving as a social critique about university freshmen hazing and family overprotection. The story is presented with an artistic touch in the cinematography, and it doesn’t lack gore, which is well used, and its realism makes every scene where it’s presented be very uncomfortable to watch.

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