Beautifully disturbing, ‘Raw’ is an awkward watch in all the right ways.
The plot follows Justine, a socially awkward veterinary student, as she begins her first year of training at university. Her reserved nature is initially tested as the more senior students engage in an ongoing series of ‘friendly’, yet invasive initiation traditions. Witnessing a barrage of incursions into her personal space, frequent loud and hedonistic parties and her gay roommates open sexual conquests; it seems everything is working against her just wanting to get on and learn. Her sister too, considered the black sheep of the family isn’t helping matters either, seemingly wanting to support her in one moment, yet undermine her in the next. That said, everything changes with a single bite – a raw rabbit kidney no less – turning her diet from a vegetarian one, to one which can only be satiated by human flesh.
Now I don’t think that extreme French cinema needs much introduction, and with some powerhouse films produced under the nations banner such as Inside, Martyrs, Frontiers and Switchblade Romance to name the forerunners, when someone releases a film claiming to be ‘gross out’ you know to take notice.
Perhaps not being quite as degrading as some of those aforementioned flicks, and perhaps even the gore manages to exist just on the fringe of what could be considered splatter, it makes all the impact it needs to all the same.
The film explores every facet of human desire in an intimate and upfront manner. The cinematography is really clever with some very euro-typical camera work which is very tight and close to the characters, and in ‘Raw’ its even more deliberate than most. Regardless of the location you view the films ever escalating set-pieces from a decidedly front-row seat, whether you like it or not. The result is some claustrophobic, and at times, even stifling in scenes where, like the character’s you feel jostled and trapped, needing a release from a tension which never comes.
There’s a sense of desperation and yearning throughout with Justine’s character, at first being reserved through choice it seems, but ultimately there’s perhaps a fine line where such repression can only ultimately end one way, and once the cats out the bag, where does the line stop?
Want sex? Why is one one-night stand worse than continually seeking sexual gratification whenever an opportunity presents it? Want to drink? Then why not to excess when you can? Admittedly my rhetorical questions possibly answer themselves when it comes to munching on your sisters’ appendages, but then again the film explores some concepts right to the extreme.
Talking of which, yeah, there are some scenes in ‘Raw’ which will test your constitution to its extreme! I said already that this film isn’t exactly wall to wall splatter but believe me the combination with the films suffocating tension, voyeuristic camera work and some very, very realistic special effects ensure you get what you came for, and then some. The gore scenes in this movie are indulged in with the camerawork savouring every last moment, lingering long after the point has been made. Garance Marillier’s portrayal as the doe-eyed Justine is able to flip her character on its head showing a more voracious, animalistic side when needs be; she is far from your average slasher stalker.
The main plot is somewhat linear there is still time from a few twists and turns and whilst the overall ending is perhaps something of an inevitability, the film holds its solemn and depressive tone right up until the credits. Whilst I didn’t have the same ‘hollowed out’ feeling I had after ‘Martyrs’ had its way with me, ‘Raw’ will linger long in the mind for reasons more than just its graphic content.
Overall, ‘Raw’ is a film which should be praised on all fronts. Its an example of a film which is arguably flawless in its execution, deserved of merit beyond its graphic content. There is so much to take away from the story, but equally the technical aspects of the film which work in synergy to put the viewer right there. It’s a movie which forces the viewer to feel a gamut of emotion, and above all its message is applied as much to fans as it is to its characters, after all, no matter how violent, no matter how grotesque the scene, there’s always a yearning for more.