Raw’s reputation precedes it. The horrific tale of a young woman’s reckless transformation from vegetarian into cannibal has been sensationalized by reports of audience members fainting and vomiting in its early screenings.
There’s no question that the film’s violence demands a tough stomach, though worse things have been seen on The Walking Dead. These headlines about Raw are concerning, though, because they reduce the movie to gross-out B-horror.
Raw’s potency extends far beyond its shock value. It’s a horror movie at heart, but it doubles as a fascinating drama that asks provocative questions about the carnivorous part of human nature. An impressive debut from French writer-director Julia Ducournau, Raw tells the story of Justine (Garance Marillier), a college freshman who was raised on a strictly vegetarian diet, joining her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) at veterinarian school. With encouragement from Alexia, Justine reluctantly eats a piece of rabbit liver as part of a hazing ritual.
The meat takes a nasty toll on Justine’s body, but after recovering she finds herself with a craving for Shawarma. Her desires begin to escalate, and she starts finding creative ways to satisfy her curiosity. Things quickly get out of hand, but any further details of the plot would spoil the fun. As dark as it may seem to describe Raw’s premise as “fun,” it’s one thing the film fully intends to provide, and it does so with wild success. Ducournau clearly had a great time writing this script, and it was wise for her to direct it herself to bring it to life with a unique blend of grit and cheek.
Another crucial element to the tone is Jim Williams’ phenomenal score. The main theme of the movie is an unforgettable croon of menace and melancholy that measures up to the best soundtracks horror has ever offered. Raw’s music isn’t a one-trick pony either, as the more emotional sequences are beautifully buoyed by poignant, reflective strings.These slower scenes are just as much a part of Raw’s DNA as its disturbing depictions of cannibalism. The film strips its two leads down to their most primal, and the actresses give fierce performances that explore sister dynamics and a simple, humanistic regard for family.
Raw is far more than a gory gimmick. Justine’s newfound tastes are her jumping point for a coming-of-age transformation that extends to a sexual awakening and a revelatory discovery of self-confidence. It’s the latest brilliant work to thrive in what’s surely to be remembered as a golden age in creative horror.