Raw, written and directed by Julia Ducournau, is not a film for those with a weak stomach, nor a weak sensibility. With viscerally overwhelming sounds, images, ideas etc. Raw is able to pull you into something you are understandably reluctant to watch. But this is one of those situations where you want to look away but find yourself unable too. Its concept is disturbing, but it’s melding of that concept with things that every teenager experiences, makes it something that is utterly watchable. There’s much to get into with this film, so let’s finish with the intro and get to the meat of this review.
During a hazing ritual at university, Justine – played by Garance Marillier – is forced to eat raw rabbit kidney, which is made worse by the fact that she is a vegetarian who has never eaten meat in her life. Soon, desires within Justine begin to surface, and her want for more meat goes beyond just animal.
Raw is unflinchingly visceral in every sense of the word. Every sound; so many of the images; much of what we as the audience are given to take in during this film is unsettling, uncomfortable, and at all times fully enveloping. Much of what made this film so… almost entrancing, was how it handled the visual and auditory elements. The sound design in Raw is deep; it takes over your ears fully and at all times has them in its control. Every wet, mushy, spluttering sound just seems to echo within your head; intensifying whatever it is that is on-screen.
And then of course there are the many memorable images that the film offers. With the help of the sound design, this is a film that unsettles you, causes your stomach to turn over and attempt to rebel against you. It’s a film that at no point holds back, it at all times goes fully into whatever gross situation the main character has now found herself in (or at times deliberately put herself in) and doesn’t turn away.
And those moments are only intensified by the fact that the film is shot in a very claustrophobic way. We are up close and personal with Justine for much of ‘Raw’ and because of that, we can see and hear every little layered detail of what it is she is doing. Intensely scratching a bad rash, tucking into some raw meat, forcing herself to throw up – the list goes on. We are there for so much of this new experience for Justine and it is a full on experience. I never allowed myself to turn away from what was happening, but there were a couple of occasions where I might have liked to.
All of these elements; the fully alive sound design, the imagery that forever stands-out, the way in which the film keeps you locked in nice and close to all that is happening; this is all supported and intensified by Jim Williams score. It at times overtakes a scene and almost feels like it is directing the narrative and other times it rests subtly in the background and ever so slightly plays a part in the feelings you experience.
What you have is a full accompaniment of elements that all play their individual part, but also work brilliantly together, to support, heighten and unsettle you. It is an all-enveloping time; one that I couldn’t turn away from, but also one that caused me to recoil and feel uneasy in my seat.
But despite being repulsed by quite a few things, I always appreciated that director, Julia Ducournau never shied away from fully exploring all of the aspects of the, at times, uncomfortable and unsettling situation, while then also exploring the more conventional side to Justine; the things that every teenager goes through.
Which is one of the most interesting aspects of Raw: its main character and the dualities within her. Justine is dealing with many of the things that all young people deal with. She’s off to university where she doesn’t know anyone (other than her older sister, Alexia) and there she encounters many of the things that are thrust upon young people; alcohol, drugs sex and social struggles. From the outside, Justine is your typical girl attending university; she gets good grades and she isn’t a wild child who parties every night. She says it herself, she’s “Average”.
It is this that helps connect us to Justine. We can relate to many of the things she is coming up against and with her seeming so normal, it is easy to begin to put yourself in her shoes. Quite often in the first act, I would be thinking about how I would deal with some of the situations, were I in her shoes; the hazing rituals, the wild parties, the things that are offered to her. It’s smart how the film brings you in and makes it all make sense. Because of course things don’t remain that way.
On top of not only struggling with all the things that young people deal with, Justine is also in the unique situation where she’s starting to have cannibalistic urges (which is a weird thing to say/type). Justine is struggling to discover who she is; discover the type of person she is going to mould herself into in the adult world, and then on top of that she is having urges, she is doing things that she can’t talk to anyone about. There’s a lot more to both the film and Justine, than just an oddball concept about a girl who is also a cannibal.
That’s one of the things I liked so much about it, was that it wasn’t just a silly over the top film for the sake of being so, it took it mad concept and actually approached it and built upon it in a meaningful way. So while there were moments that were comical, there were also some really tough moments to watch – beyond the acts of cannibalism. Justine really begins to breakdown because of everything she is dealing with. On the one hand she is jealous that the guy she has a crush on is flirting with her older sister, and then on the other hand she is also trying (but failing) to suppress her want to eat human flesh. There’s a lot to unpack with ‘Raw’ and Justine and we are at all times up close and personal, to experience it all.
And what really helps to bring all of those facets and struggles of Justine together is Garance Marillier, the actress who plays her. Marillier does an incredible job in Raw. She has the sweet, innocent vulnerability of a new student who just wants to do well in class and find her place to fit in, but she also shows the pain and the fear that she is experiencing, as the desires within her intensify. The character worsens as the film goes on and so the performance by Marillier needs to show that descent, and it absolutely does – she is utterly faultless.
We are taken on a transformative journey with Justine. It is a journey that in some ways every young person can relate to, and in some ways sympathise with. But it is also a journey with an added hurdle; a hurdle too large for any reasonable person to approach and then overcome fully. Raw shows it all; from the intense inner workings of its main character, to the unsettling, disgusting acts that she soon carries out. It is a film that stays with you; I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Perhaps again reinforcing my masochistic film watching wants; I loved this film.
So I am definitely going to be recommending Raw. This is one of those films that will stay with you; it will overwhelm you at times, it will leave you feeling nauseous and creeped out, but it will also show to you the brilliance that cinema can offer. Absolutely make the effort to see this one, you won’t regret it… well actually you might a little.
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