I caught Julia Ducournau’s Raw at the Chicago International Film Festival (I say “siff”, but apparently that’s not the preferred nomenclature) in October. I’d heard some great things about the film from reliable folks who saw previous (non-Chicago) festival screenings. The trailer was good too. So, I was pretty excited to see it. I know what you’re thinking (probably not, but i’m going to pretend i do and that you’re thinking what i think you’re thinking) – “Dupes! You can’t go into a movie expecting greatness just because it has a good trailer and some festival buzz!” And you’re right. But I suppose I’ll never learn that lesson. Did Raw live up to my near-baseless expectations? Read on, reader!
Justine (Garance Marillier) is a bright young woman starting her first year of veterinary school. She comes from a family of vegetarian vets. Mom’s a vegetarian vet. Dad’s a vegetarian vet. And big sister is on her way to becoming a vet as an upper-classman (classwoman) at school. Justine spends most of her time studying for grueling exams and anatomy labs. The rest of her time is spent enduring asinine hazing rituals, managing her strange relationship with her asshole sister, sparking a romantic relationship with a classmate, and dealing with the mysterious rash she contracted soon after eating a raw (title!) rabbit kidney (her first-ever taste of meat). As the rash and her sister’s strange behavior both become more concerning, Justine’s life becomes increasingly surreal. Does it have something to do with her new cravings for meat? (yes. yes it does)
Raw is not a bad film by any measure. It is engaging and very well acted. Ducournau’s coming of age story captures the emotions of its young woman protagonist well. She’s complex and driven and her confusing experiences are a clear metaphor for adolescent growing pains. She’s conflicted about remaining true to her projected self-image versus “finding herself” as a unique person independent of her upbringing and the expectations of others. This is the relatable conflict that many a college freshman experiences. And therein lies the weakness of Raw. No matter how honest and “raw” Ducournau’s (and Marillier’s) portrayal of Justine’s transition into adulthood / womanhood is, audiences have seen it before. No amount of arthouse tropes – unglamorous sex, discomforting close-ups, crowded cacophonous strobe-lit parties, dream sequences, washed out cinematography – can change that fact. Justine’s confusion and the changes that she experiences are horrifying enough. But the focus isn’t squarely on those aspects of her transition. Too much of the film is dedicated to mundane or annoying college and social drudgery. They are important to the character arc, for sure, but they are explored in too much detail. Relatively large segments of Raw felt bogged down because of this. There is anxiety and terror in this story. It’s just buried in an all-too-familiar tale of a girl experiencing the “real world” for the first time. For some genre fans, that may overshadow the intensely gruesome shocks that put this film on their radars in the first place.
The Final Cut: Raw is arthouse drama with a splash of horror. Unfortunately, it may lean too heavily toward navel-gazing to really satiate horror fans (or at least horror fans with little patience for the day-to-day trials of an undergrad).