The reasoning behind my 31 day horror challenge is that it'll get me watching the scary movies I've put on the back-burner. Also, I want to re-evaluate some I've seen before, like Julia Ducournau's Raw (2016). I loved it enough to watch it at least twice in 2017 (the year it was released in the US). I placed it somewhere in the middle of my top 10 film list of that year. It didn't surpass Jordan Peele's cultural touchstone Get Out (my # 1), which still feels fresh in my mind and is the more ambitious film. On a visceral level though, I'm wondering now if Raw connects with me more. Ducournau isn't going for a precise social critique with Raw. She's telling a coming-of-age story through the perspective of cannibal sisters. It's a deft successor to a film like Ginger Snaps (werewolf sisters), but with an unfiltered gaze that can only come from a woman behind the camera. It reminds me of the works of another french director, Catherine Breillat.
Garance Marillier as Justine grounds this grisly tale with a naturalistic performance. She pulls off the vulnerability of a naive freshman with ease, and yet manages to also bring forth both a seething and ravenous hunger for flesh. I imagine her age (17/18 at the time of shooting?) helped with keeping the role authentic. Too often films miss the mark by casting older actors to play high school or college students. That said, some might feel uncomfortable with the sexuality on display in the film. But I think Raw shows how not to shoot exploitatively, and demonstrates the importance of having women direct stories about female adolescence. The film is more gory than it is sexually explicit, anyway.
*** spoilers and cannibalistic goriness ahead ***
The scene where Justine starts munching on her sister's severed finger will probably live on in the hall of horror. It's revolting to watch, but also exhilarating because of its pure audacity. Moments like this ascend Raw to the top-tier of the body horror genre. Ducournau is not afraid to maim or scar her lead characters, and that makes for an unnerving and thrilling ride all the way to the end credits.
Perhaps it's too much to ask that Ducournau have her characters challenge the hierarchy at the veterinary school. Justine and her fellow classmates took the hazing with little complaint, while the older students, including Justine's sister (Ella Rumpf as Alexia), reveled in their abusive power with no real consequences. A movie about cannibals lends itself to a bloody rebellion. Eat the upperclassmen, am I right? Even its vegetarian themes come off as muted by the end, only there to add inner turmoil for Justine's new found raw meat obsession.
Still, Raw has the gusto to be a modern classic. I also put it on the list because I'm prepping to watch Ducournau's second film, Titane... probably later this year when I can watch it at home. It's been well-received by most critics and fans of Raw, but I'm interested to read more of the discussion when it's more easily accessible. I have noticed at least one concerning headline...though I'm going to keep spoilers at bay until I see it myself.
This has been day 22 of 31 days of horror.