“Raw” gives a new meaning to the Freshman 15

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Frakas Productions

Under-the-radar cannibal horror film “Raw” finds terror in everyone’s worst nightmare — freshman year.

Also known as “the French cannibal movie that made people faint,” it builds an environment based on the fundamental turbulence of college’s first year, then injects tonally shocking scenes of flesh eating. “Raw” marks a brilliant debut for French writer-director Julia Ducournau, with a bold statement filled with gore, eroticism and a genuine sense of unease. 

The film opens on Justine (Garance Marillier), raised in a strictly vegetarian family, as her parents take her to college at the veterinarian school her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) also attends. Initially unable to find Alexia, Justine retreats to her dorm room until the hazing activities begin. 

Marillier perfectly embodies Justine, a freshman who simply wishes to blend in to the background, like most college students. However, she strays from her innocent facade as “Raw” takes its sinister turn. Marillier always seems slightly lost, like she is only going where the world pushes her.

The older students subject the freshmen to fairly typical Hollywood hazing activities, such as waking them up at night, forcing them to go to parties and generally humiliating them. “Raw” gives each moment a more malevolent edge. Instead of dumping water on freshmen, they are soaked in animal blood, and instead of eating worms or odd food, they are each given a raw animal organ to consume.

After initially resisting the older students’ prodding to eat the meat, Alexia finally appears and convinces Justine to swallow it whole, kicking the film’s plot into high gear. Justine quickly develops a taste for meat and begins obsessively exploring it.

Immediately, the film splits into two parts, exploring both Justine’s new obsession and her slowly developing social life. It perfectly balances the uncomfortable college environment and Justine’s betrayal of her
own upbringing.

The most aesthetically disturbing moment of the film comes during the aftermath of Justine’s newfound love of meat, as her body literally rebels against what is “wrong.” It is sure to make viewers writhe in their seats. 

“Raw” draws viewers in instantly, its darker twist on a relatable experience making it easy to forget what the film is about. Because of this, the first moment of cannibalism is enough to deeply unsettle even viewers who have watched the trailers.

This scene asks the audience to make a large mental leap, but Justine’s vegetarian childhood and the nature of a human-animal equality in a veterinarian school make her savage eating habits believable.

From here, “Raw” morphs into an insane, grotesque meditation on humanity, sexuality and the way society views women. 

One cannot discuss the film without mentioning its brilliant music by Jim Williams. It punctuates the film’s most horrific scenes and waits until the right moment to pop. 

Though few and far between, these scenes of gruesome horror bring true shock to the film. It is not shock for shock’s sake, as in the “Saw” franchise or the films of Eli Roth, but instead uses it to satirize society’s fears of so-called “nasty women.”

Ducournau’s fearless filmmaking style imbues “Raw” with a pervasive feeling of ominous anxiety that gradually escalates until the final act. It is a bizarre, gross and beautiful tale viewers should not miss.

"Raw"

  • Rating: R
  • Runtime: 129 min
  • Score: 4.5/5 stars