Critic Consensus: Raw's lurid violence and sexuality live up to its title, but they're anchored with an immersive atmosphere and deep symbolism that linger long after the provocative visuals fade.
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Critic Reviews for Raw
Raw is one of few films in the "female cannibal" canon, one that flips the power dynamic of women in horror so they are in control, rather than afraid of, their own carnal desires.
Julia Ducournau's feature film debut Raw joins the canon with the French teen-cannibal, coming-of-age story I didn't know I was waiting for.
It often takes decades for filmmakers to strike the right sense of balance Ducournau has achieved with Raw, and she is a director and writer with a formidable grasp.
Ably assisted by Marillier - and Ella Rumpf as Justine's controlling sis - Ducournau captures the more quotidian dread of fitting into cliques, losing your virginity and living up to family expectations.
The picture justifies the feminist analyses it will inevitably generate. It also offers much disgusting fun.
Some may claim the film is about a young woman discovering herself, but the writer-director's obvious delight in shock for shock's sake constitutes a major turn-off, no matter how efficiently made or well acted the film may be.
Audience Reviews for Raw
So, for one reason or another, I put this movie off for quite a while. It was on my Netflix list for months now and I remember seeing it (after I added it to my list) seeing this mentioned in a list of gross movie (I believe). Now, as far as I'm concerned, saying that a movie is gross can, sometimes, be a term that can be overused. Though, I suppose, what's gross to one person might not be to me and I get that. But I felt that, if anyone can make a gross horror film, it's the French. Though, to be fair, this is a French-Belgian co-production. Some of the more realistically grotesque horror movies, that I've seen at least, have come from France. High Tension, Martyrs, Irreversible, Inside (which I haven't seen, I'll openly admit, but I do very much want to) and that's just to name a few. I'm sure there's plenty more, and there's a list on WhatCulture.com that I'm reading right now dedicated to unforgettable French films. The thing is, though, that a lot of these films that invite controversy due to their incredibly violent and sexual nature, more often than not, explore themes that relate more to what's going on in the real world than, say, other genres. They can be more relevant about societal, racial, governmental issues if they're handled effectively. The reason this is so is because horror films, often, don't have to worry about the line between good taste and bad taste because, again, they can be as upfront as they want. The more uncomfortable it makes you, the better it achieves its goals. Movies about rape (like Irreversible) shouldn't be pleasant to watch. They should make you uncomfortable, they should be reprehensible, vile, nasty, disgusting, etc, etc, etc. Because actual rape is a disgusting and horrible act. And, in France, where (to my knowledge) there's no tyrannical MPAA governing body handing down restrictive ratings and, even, sometimes ordering cuts be made from a film to get a more favorable and crowd-friendly rating, they can pretty much be as extreme as they possibly want without worrying about censorship. Well, I mean, they have to worry about censorship if their film finds distribution on this side of the world. Regardless, let's move on to this movie, shall we? As far as grossness is concerned, I don't think it would even rate on my scale. It's certainly violent and lurid, to be sure, but it's not exactly 'gross', at least to me. This is the type of movie, since it focuses on a teen girl's burgeoning desire to consume all types of flesh, eventually, leading to her turn to cannibalism, that not everyone will enjoy. That's for sure. Because, again, it's not necessarily a pleasant movie to watch when it decides it wants to portray some of the more...unsavory aspects of Justine's new hunger. But, in a lot of ways, this is still a surprisingly effective feminist coming-of-age story. That they use cannibalism as a way to get to that doesn't negate what the story, ultimately, is. In many ways, of course, the narrative is also about Justine's sexual awakening after leading a, relatively, sheltered live in her home by a, somewhat, controlling mother and a father that, really, doesn't do much. Justine, who comes from a family of vegetarians, is sent off to a vet school, where she's sort of a legacy, considering that her mother, father (I think) and sister have all attended this university. Her sister is in her second year, I believe. During a hazing ritual, she's force fed raw rabbit kidney by her sister, who wants her to not be rejected her first year by those 'above' her. This is when she starts to get a rash all over her body that she constantly scratches at. This is, in my opinion, the grossest part of the entire movie. Seriously. Just her constantly scratching it is, quite frankly, kind of a disgusting visual. The sound effects and the visual of her just constantly scratching at this rash are well-done because it made me think that she's about to peel her own skin off. I don't know what that says about me, that I find scratching more effectively gross than the consumption of human flesh for consumption and, at a later point, for pleasure. The way I interpret the movie, and this is just my interpretation, is that this is a story about women who have been forced to control certain aspects of their personality because they are unsavory to the rest of society. And, honestly, in this case, I can't say that I expect society to react any different to cannibalism. But, obviously, the film is a metaphor for how society, and this is a film made in FRANCE, which is far more liberal than the U.S, forces women to act a certain way or hide certain aspects of their personality that might not be pleasing to others. And, let's be honest, since France is still a male-dominated society (as are most countries in the world), this is perpetuated (perhaps unknowingly) by the men in these women's lives. So it's a movie that challenges that perception of the way women are told they should behave. I mean, again, that's just the way I see the movie. That's the beautiful thing about this movie, which is just steeped in symbolism, that you can glean whatever interpretation you want out of it and, technically speaking, you would not be wrong. We all watch and react to films differently. For another person, this movie could be about something entirely different and, again, they wouldn't be wrong. That's just the way I see it. And Justine and her sister, Alex, are later ostracized for their...behavior. Because, you see, Alex has also become some sort of cannibal. You get to learn more about them, but, in my opinion, that's one of the things that I'll leave for you to watch and figure out on your own. There's a nice little twist at the end and, in theory, you get to see why Justine's life has taken the path it has. In all, I found this to be a very good and intelligent movie. Acting is great all around and the movie does provide some strong visuals with its cinematography. I will say, and this is something I saw on this movie's Wiki page under 'Reception', and that is the fact that some of its set pieces, if they can be called that, are a little forced. Parts of it just feel unnatural and designed to get a reaction. It's few and far in between, of course, but they are there and, to me, that's part of what held this movie back, in my opinion. Other than that, however, I really did enjoy this movie. I liked how the narrative progressed and it ends with a nice little twist. It almost makes cannibalism like the thing to do. Just kidding, for fuck's sake. Seriously though, it's not gonna be everyone's cup of tea, but I thought this was a very good movie and one that I'd recommend based on how it's absolutely bound to get a reaction out of you. You could say all films do that, essentially, but I think this one forces you out of your comfort zone and makes you think. Not many movies do that and, to me, even if you hate the movie, that makes it worth watching.
Sex, drugs and rock & roll. What more could you possibly ask for in your "Fucked-Up-Coming-Of-Age" movies... Cannibalism? No dramas. Raw has got you sorted.
Justine (Garance Marilliier, looking like a Gallic Rooney Mara) comes from a family of vegetarians and veterinarians. She's entering a famed veterinary college as a legacy and her big sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), is already established among the school hierarchy. The incoming students are mercilessly hazed and Justine is forced to eat meat against her will. This moment unlocks a secret craving within her that consumes her. She starts looking at her fellow students less as dinner dates and more as dinner. For the first half of Raw I thought I was watching a French nouveau version of Carrie. The first half of the movie is dominated by the pressures, and in particular, the cruel hazing from the upperclassmen at the college. The hazing is extreme, rampant, and omnipresent, with every older classmate throwing around his or her sense of privilege and bullying the freshmen candidates. It's the kind of harassment and abuse we've seen in other stories relating to fraternities and sororities where institutions of power abuse others because they were abused and so on and so on, normalizing the cruelty. However, those are organizations that are elective and enclaves among a larger campus. With Raw, it appears that every upperclassman is part of this system of hazing, meaning there is no escape if the young candidates want to continue their education. The professors seem complicit in their negligence, and Justine even has one professor who hilariously criticizes her for doing too well in class. He says her good scores are depressing the other students, possibly making them become worse doctors. The overall impression of this scholarly environment is one of sickness and exploitation. There's even a culminating "class picture" where they are bathed in buckets of (pig?) blood. With this sort of build-up, I was anticipating that when Justine got her crazy cravings that the movie was going to set up some tasty just desserts for these sadistic upperclassmen. I was looking forward to these mean people getting killed and eaten to service Justine. Perhaps that's the American version of what this movie would become, or my own preferred version with the established first half, but that's not the movie Raw ends up becoming. Stuck somewhere between body horror and weird compulsion, Raw falters trying to stake its own territory. It's definitely structured like a coming-of-age/sexual awakening story except said awakening is connected with cannibalism. That's an excellent starting point for some cringe horror but Raw gets too lost in its dreamlike atmospherics. We explore rave-like revelries, hedonistic escapades, and the allure of the unknown. The best part of the film is the deterioration of Justine's inhibitions as she gives in to her inner carnivore. There's an obvious carnality metaphor here (college is a time for experimentation) and there's a clear entertainment factor in watching a meek character assert herself. Her character gets lost in the oblique mystery that leaves a lot of unanswered questions and unclear motivations. One minute our heroine is rejecting the pressure of her peers and the next she's nibbling on a severed finger. Her downward spiral doesn't feel adequately developed as she's immediately caught in the swirl of campus hazing. The progression feels phony. Outrageous things happen without a tonal grounding, and so it feels more like David Lynch dream logic. I could better accept this drifting quality if the movie had more plot to offer. At the halfway mark, once big sis makes her major personal reveal, the movie generally stalls. The plot doesn't advance, the characters don't really deepen, and we're getting variations on the same things from before. The body horror elements don't fully feel integrated as well. Justine has breakouts of hives and rashes, presumably from eating meat, though this comes and goes. She doesn't ever seem too fraught over what she may be becoming, but maybe that's just being French. Writer/director Julia Ducournau certainly has talent and a natural way of handling her actors, but her film debut is just trying too hard. The constant crimson color scheme is heavy-handed to convey the protagonist's frayed state of mind. The symbolism is also just as obvious. The suppression of darker, more animalistic desires is an intriguing tableau, except several of the jumps in character development, or debasement, happen while Justine is unconscious. This provides a "what did we do last night?" air of mystery but it also hinders the character growth on screen. It's like the movie is trying to have Justine sleep through her character development. It's too bad because there are fascinating pieces and ideas that emerge like flotsam in the wake of Ducournau's tale. The second half has the potential to become a bizarre sisterly bonding story. How far is each sister willing to go to help the other and to cover up for her actions? Will there be a rivalry when they target the same man? These kinds of questions could have further explored their relationship, but alas it was not to be. You'll never know how the sisters are supposed to feel for one another throughout the movie. The characters are pretty thin to begin with and then Ducournau introduces a new element to provide added dimension and then lets it slip away. Back to shock value and obvious metaphors. Here's an example how Raw gets too caught up in the sensations of the moment, the allure of its images, which admittedly are a key part to horror. There's a scene where Justine is dancing in front of a mirror. She's wearing her sister's clubbing dress, an article of clothing she had earlier been disdainful over. Now she sways to the beats of a rap song and applies lipstick to her pert lips. She then gazes lustfully at her reflection and leans into the mirror, kissing it and herself. And then she does this for another minute, going in for like four more kisses, as if one wasn't sufficient. We get the idea pretty early, about Justine's emerging new self, her carnal cravings, and yet Ducournau keeps going, convinced that redundancy is required to satisfactorily convey obsession. Raw is also somewhat notorious on the festival circuit for its shock value. Reportedly people were fainting or leaving in droves from the content of the movie. I think this hyperbolic response is overblown. There is a fair bit of gore in the movie but it's almost all animal related. If you're an animal lover, watching corpse after corpse might be too much. I certainly averted my eyes more than once during a dog carcass autopsy. The human gore is surprisingly minimal though bloody. By far the most squirm-inducing part of Raw didn't involve cannibalism at all but a homemade Brazilian wax that gets a little too close for comfort for all involved. At least I now know what my tolerance level will be like for the eventual European coming-of-age horror film set at a waxing station. While watching Raw with my friend Ben Bailey, we would occasionally turn to each other after a shocking or gratuitously exploitative scene and say, "It is a French movie." When characters strip for casual nudity, or start chowing down on human remains, or frolic in blood-soaked clothing, we'd say, "It is a French movie." This turned into a game, ultimately with us imagining a climax involving a cannibalistic ménage à trios. "That," we remarked, "would be the ultimate French movie." Raw is a seductive and intriguing movie that has enough surface-level pleasures for devoted horror hounds. Unfortunately, it feels like the least interesting version of this story and premise. There are interesting pieces here to be certain. I just wish someone else had assembled them. Nate's Grade: C+
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