Justine (Garance Marillier) is the latest in her family to attend veterinary school. Both her parents attended and her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) has been there a year. Justine is hardly settled in when the upper classmen begin their annual hazing ritual. Just as she is rousted from her bed she meets her roommate Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella). Shocked to discover he is male, Adrien assures her it’s alright as he’s gay. The hazing of freshmen consists of making them sing songs, keep their eyes on the ground when passing an upperclassman and being doused in animal blood. Added to this, they must all consume a small piece of raw rabbit liver. Justine and her parents are lifelong vegetarians but in order to avoid being shunned, she eats the raw meat. That night she develops an itching and blistering rash all over her body. She gets some cream from the school infirmary and it quickly clears up; but she also develops a taste for meat. She is soon consuming meat in all its forms and in large quantities. As she begins to adjust to college life, the first time being away from home and surrounded by people her own age, Justine spreads her wings and tries new things like staying up all night drinking and dancing. She also discovers her taste for meat includes uncooked servings including raw chicken breasts right out of the refrigerator. When Alexia has an accident with a pair of scissors and cuts off half of her middle finger, Justine is first concerned for her sister but soon turns her attention to the severed digit and eats all the flesh off the bone. What is happening to this former studious and straight-laced young woman and is the entire student body in danger of being consumed by the cannibal in their midst?
“Raw” is a French and Belgian co-production that has a list of governmental funding agencies at the beginning of the credits that is almost as long as the film itself. European countries are heavily involved with their film industries and are often listed as providing the money necessary to get movies made. It’s an interesting system that would likely not work in the U. S. as the arts are considered a less than necessary function that is best left to the private sector. Also, whichever party was in power would likely use the threat of no funding to make sure movies agreed with and supported whatever political message was being pushed at that time. That said, I’m glad public funding of films in Europe is common so we get a movie like “Raw” that is so unique, weird and challenging.
From the opening shot of “Raw” you will know this is something different. It isn’t because it’s a foreign film but because it is an exceedingly well made film. Writer/director Julia Ducournau has an eye for wide open vistas with tiny characters doing very little that still manage to lock in your interest. Trees, grass and an empty road with a lone figure walking along the edge is all we see when the camera switches to look in the opposite direction to an oncoming car. What happens next is unexpected and sets up what will be commonplace throughout the rest of the film. I sat in the theatre and watched the first few minutes in awe. “Raw” grabs you from the first frame and demands you pay attention for the entirety of its 99 minute run time.
Marillier, Rumpf and Oufella make a dynamic and extremely watchable trio. The three are far more nuanced and skilled than their young ages would suggest (the oldest is 25). “Raw” must have been a difficult shoot for the cast as Marillier and Oufella are covered in animal blood (fake, I assume) for a sizable chunk of the movie while all the characters are pushed to physical and emotional limits. It is an intense story that rarely lets up and the cast is amazing.
Fans of gory horror films will be pleased by what they are served in “Raw.” There are some amazing effects that don’t look the least bit fake. There are even some scenes that might test the strongest stomachs. One scene involving the necropsy of a dog I found particularly troubling. Not that anything especially gruesome occurs but the dog being examined looks very real. It would appear some scenes were shot at a real veterinary hospital so I guess there’s a chance what I saw in that scene was a real deceased dog being cut open but I hope not.
There isn’t much to complain about in “Raw” but there was one emotional turn about midway through the film that felt a bit out of place. There is also a reveal at the end that is telegraphed so far in advance you practically know what’s going to happen before you enter the theatre and this lessens the impact of the film’s emotional punch. I don’t want to give away anything that might spoil the movie as I consider it to be a gift that is best unwrapped with no expectations or hints. Perhaps you won’t find these bits as troubling as I did but both of them stuck out as poor choices in an otherwise nearly flawless film.
“Raw” is rated R for strong sexuality, drug use/partying, bloody and grisly images, aberrant behavior, language and nudity. Breasts and behinds are commonly seen throughout the film. A fairly graphic sex scene is shown. While there is no graphic nudity in this scene it is clear what is happening. We also see a couple of gay sex acts, one performed by the characters on screen and one shown on the screen of a laptop. We see a couple of joints being smoked as well as party drugs being consumed. There are several scenes where human flesh is consumed and graphic, bloody injuries are shown. Foul language is common in parts of the film. “Raw” is subtitled as the characters speak in French.
“Raw” is a coming-of-age tale with a twist. It features characters that aren’t always likable but always interesting. It has incredible visual flair and doesn’t mind taking a chance with what it shows the audience. Perhaps this is a French or European thing that is common amongst their films. American filmmakers could take a few notes from this movie and possibly improve their own product. “Raw” is in limited release so if you get a chance to enjoy it on a big screen, treat yourself to a tasty and rare morsel of gourmet filmmaking.
“Raw” gets four stars out of five.
This week everyone gets out of the way to learn “The Fate of the Furious” and I’ll review it for WIMZ.com.
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