Raw Review: Acclaimed French/Belgian horror drama Raw is gory, sophisticated feminine fright fest
When it comes to making horror movies, I’m not so sure gender is all that important. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Because one thing all us mortal beings have in common, no matter our skin color, place of birth, what version of God we buy into or what plumbing hands or does not hang between our legs, is that our lives are finite. We are ALL gonna die. And the foundation of every horror movie is the exploitation of that very profound driving paranoia. Death truly is the great equalizer and horror is the genre that unites us all.
But with that, when you aim a little higher than just standard-issue horror and if you have a protagonist in a film that is female and if that film is about that protagonist coming of age and seeking to find their place within its often bizarre social hierarchy, having a woman as your point of entry is always fascinating. And if the person painting this portrait is a male, it’s equally interesting and almost abstract, because men cannot really “know” a woman’s experience, we (we meaning me and every reader reading this who lost the flip of the coin in the womb and was born with a penis) can only have an impression of that experience.
But when a female makes a movie about the intimate life of another female, it’s often magical, like opening a secret door into a private party that we’re not invited to. And when when you apply that clandestine character study to the equally arcane world of horror, the results can yield some seriously profound and edgy cinema.
And that’s what filmmaker Julia Ducournau‘s French/Belgian shocker Raw is: profound and edgy and though it positions itself as a horror movie, it goes deeper and has different motives. It’s also supersonically stylish, disturbing, darkly funny, kinky and totally revolting. After a wildly-successful international festival run last year, Raw (aka Grave) hits limited US theaters via Focus World on March 10th, this Friday in fact. You’d be well served to watch it.
The film sees sweet, shy vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier) enrolling in a looming, almost prison-like veterinarian college, joining her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) and at the urging of her similarly vegetarian, pacifist parents. Justine is immediately roped into a perverse, ultra-aggressive hazing ritual, wherein all the new recruits are doused in blood. That night, Justine finds herself in itchy agony, clawing at a bright red, scaly rash that has encrusted her body. After a visit to the doctor, who assures her all is well, Justine starts feeling odd. Her aversion to meat starts to wane, replaced with a genuine hunger, for what she’s not sure. One night, after her sister volunteers to wax Justine’s nether regions (an oddly erotic sequence), a scissor-slip results in Alexia losing a finger and passing out. As Justine panics and calls for an ambulance, she picks up the finger and involuntarily begins stripping the flesh from the bone like a bloody chicken wing. The beast inside wakes up and though she tries to fight it, there’s no denying that Justine has – through some sort of potentially viral infection or maybe some other means – become a kind of cannibal vampire. She wants blood, flesh and sex, in that order.
But that’s only scratching the surface of this sanguinary tale.
Narratively, there’s nothing particularly novel about Raw. It’s like any vampire or werewolf drama where a victim rages against their biological changes. Rabid. Near Dark. Lost Boys. Ginger Snaps. We’ve seen that before. But what we haven’t seen is the imagery and intimacy that Ducournau employs here. From its stark opening frames that anticipate a pivotal sequence to come, to its dripping examination of female sexual desire, to imagery of hog-tied horse, paint-covered people groping each other, flesh-eating rapture to the stunning — and we mean stunning — use of music (the score for this movie by Ben Wheatley favorite Jim Williams is Gothic, electro-eurohorror fuzz-guitar/pipe organ menace to the max), Raw is exactly that; it’s raw, red, alive, awkward and injected with a cinematic energy that stems from a totally unique sensibility. This is Ducournau’s world from stem to stern and we’ve never been in the likes of it before.
Raw is a horror movie about a woman but — and I’m not sure I’m articulating this properly — it feels female. Deceptively soft, urgent, wet and pulsing with intellect and power. It feels dangerous. Exciting. Like an awakening. Like a birth.
Beware of Julia Ducournau. She’s the real deal.
Raw opens in limited release on March 10th, with an expansion planned for later this year.