★★★ / ★★★★
The psychological body-horror “Raw,” written and directed by Julia Ducournau, is not meant to be enjoyed. Rather, it is to be experienced—to make us feel uncomfortable, to gross us out, to make us think, and, yes, even relate to the protagonist as she discovers she does not fit in her environment and is often forced to retreat to her room, to wallow in her regrets and shame. While not the most entertaining picture, I found myself unable to look away, curious as to how, or if, the first-year veterinary student would find her place in a savage place on top of her growing hunger for human flesh.
Garance Marillier plays Justine, our mousy and rather plain protagonist who just so happens to have a reputation of being book-smart. Not once does Marillier overact and so even the most ludicrous situations command a grounded feel about them. I found it intriguing that just about every time she must act with another person on screen, there is a hollowness to her performance—her character’s body is there but the mind is not present. This characteristic is increasingly apparent as the character becomes more animalistic both in terms of how she processes what’s unfolding around her as well as her behavior.
The decision to minimize score fits exactly into the type of story being told. Music does not signal toward how we should feel or think. Instead, it employs various extreme images such as actual dead animals that must be cut open, a party involving body paint, hazing rituals that are both amusing and questionable, among others. In one memorable scene, Justine finds herself unable to stop scratching all over her body… even when her skin, already red due to irritation, is beginning to peel off. I was so engrossed, I actually directed “Please stop” at the screen. Notice the style of editing and energy created during this particular sequence.
The story can be interpreted as a metaphor, the blossoming or transformation one undergoes when one goes off to university, away from parents, usual group of friends, the familiar hometown. Notice that the images shown from time to time appear to be seemingly random. Initially, I was confused, almost alienated, by these nonspecific shots. But realize that perhaps this is the point. The writer-director wants us to feel how Justine must feel, especially since the character appears to come from a rather tightly controlled family, a sheltered lifestyle. She is ill-equipped to adapt and we observe her disintegration.
“Raw,” also known as “Grave,” knows how to get under the skin and into the mind of its viewers. It does so by utilizing long takes, resting on faces for an extra odd beat or two, and using slow motion when urgent action is at hand. Clearly, Ducournau is interested in how best to utilize her craft in order to make us wonder rather than giving us concrete answers every other second. While modern horror pictures featuring cannibals aim to terrorize us, this film is refreshing in that it attempts to make us see through their eyes, through their cravings. Would you dare try it?