Like its chosen subject, Raw is surrounded by mysticism. Opening at the festival circuit back in 2016, rumours spread far and wide about the impressionable French horror film which left audiences vomiting and fainting in masses. But for all its media furore about the horror and gore on-screen, Raw is one of the most humane cannibal representations in cinema.
Considering the film’s subject matter, however, the exaggerated reports aren’t surprising. As the director herself puts it, “It’s too close.” Cannibals are commonly placed in the same supernatural realm of horror as vampires and zombies. From scientific experiments-gone-wrong to ‘savage’ tribes living outside of civilisation, cannibals have often been presented as the Other. But the reality is that cannibals really do exist and they’re biologically no different to us, which is why we find them so disturbing. With all the films attempting to understand murderers and incest, Ducournau unapologetically tackles the third and final Taboo, blurring the line between human-and-animal and human-and-cannibal.
The film follows Justine (Garrance Marillier) as she starts veterinary school. Despite her following in a proud family tradition, she is alienated and finds it difficult to fit in to this hostile and animalistic environment. But when a rookie hazing ritual leaves her with the bitter-sweet taste of raw rabbit kidney, the life-long vegetarian awakens to supressed desires. It leaves her drooling over her room-mate’s body and chewing on juicy fingers, a craving which is too familiar to her older sister and fellow vet student, Alexia (Ella Rumpf). This new desire liberates Justine. For the first time she is in touch with her body and her newly found sexuality, discovering herself in the chaos of student parties and in the splatter of red amidst a sea of yellows and blues.
Through this taboo desire she steps outside of the boundaries of her identity and the constraints of social and familial determinism, exploring her own limitations of humanity. In a society where, in their own way everyone is a cannibal, what makes us human is the presence of choice – one which is left open to Justine at the end of the film.
Ducournau delves on the struggle of Justine’s body as, in a Cronenbergian fashion, it literally sheds its skin. She steers drastically away from cannibal as a supernatural entity, rendering something we deem as repulsive relatable. We intimately witness the body in its triviality which in turn becomes the horror, more so than the ‘horror’ itself: Justine’s rashes, discomfort, hair pulling and need to climax all speak to a universal experience of the suffering body.
Raw’s confrontational female gaze and dialogue with the monstrous-feminine and other horror traditions makes it a great addition to the genre. Ducournau takes on her first feature film with great style and confidence leaving you hungry for more.