At the Movies: Raw

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For me, the concept of monstrosity should be seen as “I,” not as “they”…

-Julia Ducournau- Raw’s Director/Writer  

As with all the best horror movies, Raw’s prologue is nebulous and intriguing. It opens with a lone car speeding down a quiescent highway. A figure rushes across the road, forcing the car to make an emergency stop but, failing spectacularly, it hits the figure and crashes off the side of the road. At first it looks as though there are no survivors, but as we watch, the figure lying in the road begins to twitch, stretch its limbs and, standing up, makes its way slowly and purposefully towards the passengers in the car. It is at this moment we realize that the figure is a predator, not a victim, and that the car has driven straight into a trap…

I remember hearing stories about Raw a while back- apparently when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival’s Midnight Madness screening, paramedics had to be called to treat all the audience members who had passed out from the horror and extreme gore! I also heard that sick bags were being handed out at film screenings…

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But despite all of this, the director Julia Ducourna says that her aim was to omit all generic horror clichés and challenge the traditional treatment of women in the genre. She sees it as more of a coming of age movie and described it as “a modern ancient tragedy about too much love”.

Inevitably, the first thing that’ll come to mind when you talk about Raw will be those few truly horrific moments which weave together cannibalism, horror, sex and violence. Some of the most memorable moments reminded me of other horrors such as Carrie, Rosemary’s Baby and Let the Right One In, whilst others bore zero resemblance to anything I’d ever seen before! But I think the horrific scenes stick in mind not just because they’re axiomatically shocking -Raw should never be compared to a Lars Von Trier Movie- (note- there is no link to any of his work), but because we’re completely submerged within Justine’s nightmare, discovering everything just as she does. There is therefore a sense of innocence, somewhat incongruous in a cannibal movie.

Raw divulges an unusual fresher’s year. The movie begins as 16 year old Justine arrives at University, ready for her first year at veterinary school. She is wide eyed, studious and, as a staunch vegetarian, firmly grounded in her morals and ethics. But at an initiation ceremony, she is forced to swallow a raw rabbit liver and becomes obsessed with raw meat. Swiftly realizing that her cravings cannot be satiated by animal flesh alone, her morals begin to lax…

Superficially, Raw is about a girl who eats people, but actually, there’s so more to it than this. It’s a rites of passage movie about going to University, growing up, and having the freedom to explore your principles, removed from the shadow of your parents. And inevitably, Justine’s primal urges for food and sex become interlaced, where the former becomes a proxy for the latter.

However, horror and realism are constantly interwoven: after unwittingly and compulsively chewing on her own hair Justine makes herself sick in the university toilets, and in an oddly placed comedic moment, upon hearing her retching, a fellow student in the bathroom gives her some friendly advice on how to make herself sick. This scene gives us a moment to comprehend how absolutely ludicrous this movie is! But it also draws clear parallels between Justine’s lack of control and (what can only be described as a very unusual) eating disorder and more typical eating disorders! The film consistently uses horror to explore the darker sides of growing up.

Raw asks us to consider the consequences of taking any of our beliefs to their logical extreme. At the start of the film, Justine questions why not eat humans if you’re going to eat animals and challenges her fellow students to site the differentiating factors that make one okay and the other not. Its certainly not just a promotion for vegetarianism but it got me thinking about that too….

I really loved Raw. It has a universal parable- esque quality and more than enough gore to satiate you. It’s the best horror movie I’ve seen this year (so far!)

Usually monsters are called “them.” They are creatures from outer space, or zombies, stuff like that. I’ve always found that funny, because we have all felt—and we will, and we sometimes still do feel—like monsters, you know? For me, the concept of monstrosity should be seen as “I,” not as “they.”

Julia Ducournau

 

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