‘Raw’ Review | Girl Eats World
Like Water for Chocolate, Tampopo, Big Night, Soul Food… there are certain motion pictures that are so indelibly linked with delicious food that remembering the first time you watched them can make your mouth water all over again. Raw is not that kind of movie… unless you really, really, REALLY like eating human flesh.
Julia Ducournau’s unsettling drama stars Garance Marillier as Justine, a first-year veterinary student and stalwart vegetarian who balks at her new school’s hazing ritual, which forces her to eat raw rabbit kidneys. It seems cruel as Justine’s older sister Alexia (Ella Drumpf) forces the giblet down her throat, but college is a place to try new things, and soon enough Justine is eating meat pretty regularly. And when the opportunity comes to ingest the flesh off of a human finger… well, what’s the difference?
Take out the cannibalism and replace it with something more familiar, like alcoholism or drug addiction, and Raw would still be a finely acted and thoughtful drama about falling prey to one’s own vices. But that wouldn’t be nearly as fun. Julia Ducournau’s twisted drama invites us to watch with twisted fascination as Justine gradually accepts who she is, for better or (let’s be honest) almost definitely worse. The moral high ground breaks away under her feet. After a while all that’s left is the hunger.
Read the ingredients on the package for Raw and you might be disgusted. But this is no processed meat product. The unseemly and perhaps even stomach-churning cannibalism sequences don’t compensate for a lack of nutritional value. The feedings in Raw are intimate, and illustrate the overpowering nature of compulsion more vividly than any conventional wickedness you’d be likely to find on a typical college campus. We can watch an alcoholic drink a beer on camera and think little of it, because dramatic motion pictures have more-or-less immunized us to the image. Skinning a body part and savoring the ingestion process has a bit more kink and kick, don’t you think?
It would have been easy for Raw to indulge in didactic moralizing, but when your hero is chewing off human skin it’s hardly necessary. The imagery in Julia Ducournau’s film is so slippery and stringy that the writer/director is free to merely explore what’s going on inside her protagonist’s head, and how one form of freedom begins to affect her entire worldview, her relationship with her sister and ultimately her relationships with every other human being in her life. Raw doesn’t judge because nobody in the film is innocent and pointing fingers is counterproductive, especially when you could be eating fingers instead.
Some audiences will be turned off by Raw, and who could blame them? These characters do vile and monstrous things. But for those with strong constitutions and an interest in understanding – if not necessarily forgiving – the darkest recesses of the soul, Raw is very well done.
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William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.