Director: Julia Ducournau
Lust is an insatiable appetite, and in one’s most introverted periods of adolescence, it is borderline cancerous. As an astute observer of femininity, sisterhood, sexuality, and love, Julia Ducournau’s Torino Film Lab-sponsored debut film, RAW, may just be the single most audacious outing from a young director since last year’s SWISS ARMY MAN (or if you’re a Daniels naysayer, László Nemes’s SON OF SAUL). With a refreshing visual singularity and an unflinching portrayal of French youth, RAW is at both times deeply personal and highly stylized, towing the line between complete aesthetic formalism and tonal naturalism. It’s gross too, but that’s clearly secondary to Ducournau, a director who has pressing things to declare about the contemporary state of female identity and has used her cannibalistic exploitation as a disguise for attracting audiences.
Justine is an introverted 18-year-old vegetarian hoping to follow in the footsteps of her parents to one day become a vet. Her older sister is no different. Together they attend France’s most elite veterinarian college, forcing Justine through a brutal freshman hazing process the likes of which the United States has never seen. If you thought frat bros were bad, just wait for the debauchery that Ducournau has in store for you. The willful separation from faculty and the student body largely contributes to the growing sense of unrest that RAW attains. Justine has to share her dorm room with a gay man she slowly develops feelings for, is forced to eat a raw rabbit kidney, discovers a horrific skin rash, and (as we all do) develops an insatiable appetite for human flesh. Throwing Justine through the proverbial ringer without having anyone to turn to, Ducournau captures the loneliness of an introvert’s freshman year like few other directors.
It Was Salmonella That Killed The Beast
As RAW slowly descends into its horror trappings, Ducournau utilizes the suffocating isolation of the med school’s clinical aesthetics to articulate just how oppressed Justine feels in her new environment. Despite being top of her class, the expectations projected upon her and her inability to speak with anyone about her carnal lust prevent her from liberating herself both physically and emotionally. She cannot be her own woman, only the person her family anticipates her to be. And even when she finally gets a chance to explore her burgeoning sexuality, she is chastised for it because of the man she decides to sleep with. And that is perhaps what excites me most about RAW: it is the most inventive articulation of a child’s matriculation into adulthood. Justine goes through many of the same problems witnessed in John Hughes comedies and Terry Zwigoff films, but the veil of the horror narrative allows RAW to play out as a fresh take on a familiar premise.
But it is around the finale that RAW doesn’t come through as confidently as one would hope. With an end scene that prioritizes one last instance of shock value over quiet profundity, I felt that RAW, though a fantastic allegory, became too convinced that it absolutely had to satisfy the cravings of the few horror nuts in the theatre. The fact of the matter remains that RAW is admittedly tame for what its marketing may suggest, but I’m okay with this. Ducournau had me convinced with her clever metaphor and beautiful aesthetics alone. After all, a scene involving a Brazilian wax and a cut-off-finger more than satisfied my lust for viscera. RAW becomes rather convinced that it needs to tell its audience a lot of things at once about identity, but in actuality, its tale of love-hate sibling rivalry is all it really needs. I love the honesty with which Ducournau explores the vulgarity of youth, regardless of gender, and had the cannibalism maintained its framework around the two sisters and nobody else, it would have been more effective.
Dat Freshman 15 Doe
And yet there is a persistence to RAW’s vision that is unlike most horror contemporaries. It is more akin to the works of Refn, though arguably far more personal, than any traditional horror release, and deceptively comedic for a film that masquerades as straight horror. The symbiosis of framing Justine’s carnal instincts inside a terrain of savage, animalistic college youths begs the question as to who the real monster is. Inside a college fantasy where roofied college students party right next to the morgue, only to nonchalantly dissect a dog the next morning, RAW hints at the hypocrisies of a generation so self-obsessed that even doctors don’t lend a hand to a girl in need. RAW is a walk of solidarity for any misfit to ever attend college. It is a consolidation for all children who have lost their way amidst the peer pressure of frat initiations. It demands that we be who we are, and consoles us knowing that we will one day work our way through this struggle.