Expectations will kill you. So will cannibalistic veterinary students, but that’s besides the point. Coming out of the Toronto Film Festival, everyone was talking about Raw. A friend of mine told me there was literal buzzing going around the streets as he walked between screenings. After all, what else do you talk about but the people that passed out during a horror movie?
The assumption, very obviously, is that it was scary. Too scary to stay conscious, in fact, but not only is that wildly dismissive of what the film truly accomplishes, it’s also, uh, totally true. After seeing a showing of the French director Julia Ducournau’s coming-of-age, flesh-eating movie, I can wholeheartedly confirm that this is one hell of a gore parade.
But the expectation that you’ll go into this movie, see some god awful sights, and be done with it is entirely erroneous. Much like its main character, it will sink its teeth into you and not let go. It builds and builds into a bleakly fascinating, desperately beautiful, and ravenously determined story about a young woman violently and graphically exploding into maturity.
The broad transition is Justine (Garance Marillier) going from shy, vegetarian veterinary freshman to sexually aware, independent cannibal, the impetus for which is an almost 80s movie-level of newcomer hazing. Every single component of Justine’s slick, terrifying descent is tied together but incredibly self-sufficient. Each part of her old and new personalities stand on their own while informing one another. It’s a satisfying and complex character arc.
But it’s the methods in which they are portrayed that are truly genius. Many of them tie back to her still vegetarian family, especially her reformed and now meat-eating black sheep sister Alexa (Ella Rumpf). Their relationship is a pot that’s already boiling over with sibling rivalry. It’s just that no one is really acknowledging the active and growing familial disaster percolating within.
There’s also an exceptionally modern and informed writing fueling the entire film. A slightly (or overtly, in some cases) feminist slant fills in some portions, such as body shaming and catcalling. These parts tend to stick harder to you because in a world of long pig consumption and a school that’s full of horses and rabbits rather than desks and projectors, these are infinitely more familiar. Hell, they’re more familiar than the light frat college comedy tropes.
That contrast is almost a Trojan Horse that delivers an abstractly conventional transformation from ingenue to predator (in every sense of the word), especially as it rides on a cloud of siloed, perverted worldbuilding. You are consistently and almost overwhelmingly tasked with swallowing more and more seemingly impossible turns that somehow taste totally believable. It’s not even a trick, though, so much as the comprehensive illusion that makes the film work.
But know this: those cinemagoers that passed out had it right. There are not one or two but several scenes that make such an exit look like sweet release. But also know this: it’s worth it. Raw is disgusting, sure, but it’s also one of the smartest and most surprising films you’ll see this year.
Final Score: 9 out of 10