Breanna Lucci says Raw overflows with incredible performances, artful props, and complex relationships.
[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS]
Julia Ducournau, a French director and screenwriter, produced the disturbing drama horror Raw (2016). Starring Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, and Rabah Nait Oufella, Raw takes place at Saint-Exupery, an esteemed French veterinary school. It has a basis in college horror, mirroring films like Happy Death Day (2017) and Truth or Dare (2018), where college shenanigans pull the characters into reckless decisions. It then spirals into a unique cannibalistic horror, much like Fresh (2022) in its unique and surprising approach.
Strict vegetarian Justine (Marillier) is nervous about starting her first year of school to become a veterinarian. When her parents drop her off and she goes to bed, she wakes to find herself in the thick of a bizarre and invasive hazing ritual. Things intensify as Justine and her classmates are forced to eat raw meat, which to her disgust, she finds a bit too satisfying. As her cravings deepen and her self-control weakens, she becomes unable to stop herself from consuming raw meat and eventually human flesh.
Raw boasts a strong script. It is strategic and thought out, as are the characters and their dynamics. Justine and her sister Alexia (Rumpf), a second-year student at the school, have an intricate and complicated relationship. It shifts from traditional sisterly bickering to an intimate friendship and then to something all its own. Without a doubt, the firm basis of their characters would be nothing without the fantastic performances by Marillier and Rumpf. Marillier depicts an effortless transformation, somehow giving Justine pure innocence and unquestioned insanity. Rumpf, taking on the role of the adventurous older sister, displays a similarly intriguing change from calm and collected to crazed and reckless. Together and apart, their acting tells stories that start opposite and converge into a beautifully disastrous explosion.
Adrian (Oufella), Justine’s self-proclaimed homosexual roommate, is equally captivating. His character arc starts simple, then jumps on Justine’s back as they speed toward chaos. The dilemma of his sexuality is where Adrian and Oufella’s performance shine. It gives a much-needed complexity to the film, leaving the audience thinking of him long after the credits roll.
Laurie Colson’s art direction distinguishes this film from other flesh-eating cinematic experiences. While the fake raw chicken and other miscellaneous props are gut-wrenching as Justine feasts on them, there is something artful in how college life presents in Raw. In one scene, Justine walks through a doorway and is assaulted by a can of dark blue paint thrown all over her body. The paint coats every inch of her skin, leaving everything covered except the whites of her eyes and the inside of her mouth. She is shoved into a bathroom with a boy, equally coated in yellow, and told that the two cannot come out until they make green. While it’s a short scene, it’s jarring and manages to cover complicated concepts like consent, arousal, and more through the use of paint.
On a similar limb, this film’s body horror is top-notch. Justine has a horrifying allergic reaction, and the cinematography by Ruben Impens is unafraid to display her skin bubbling out and peeling off. The pairing of Marillier’s impressive acting and disturbing makeup causes the reaction to feel startlingly accurate — as if this is the catalyst for what’s to come. As the film continues, the body horror only amplifies. The gore is disgusting, realistic, and believable and works well to propel this film forward.
While the characters certainly have an appetite, audiences probably won’t after viewing the film. That being said, every component of this film is well executed. Keeping us captivated as Justine discovers her deepest desires, leaving us both startled and satisfied by its ending.
Raw is now streaming on Netflix.