Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Aberrant Behavior, Bloody and Grisly Images, Strong Sexuality, Nudity, Language and Drug Use/Partying
(French with English subtitles)
Directed by: Julia Ducournau
Written by: Julia Ducournau
Starring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas & Joana Preiss
France has injected gallons of new blood into 21st century horror cinema. This new wave of French Extremism took genre fans by storm as we saw tense hits like HIGH TENSION, insane gorefests like INSIDE, and genre-defying masterpieces like MARTYRS. RAW is the latest French horror flick and the hype train for this film has been rolling ever since its screenings on the festival circuit (TIFF, Stiges, Fantastic Fest, and Sundance). I try not to get too caught up in hype because it can seriously put a damper on legitimately good (not great) movies. However, I was stoked to finally see RAW this weekend and I discovered this is another good (not great) horror film.
Justine (Garance Marillier) is kicking off her first year at veterinary college. Leaving the arms of her overprotective parents and reuniting with her rebel sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf), Justine is enduring a week of extreme hazing rituals. One of these rituals involves eating a piece of raw rabbit’s kidney, which flies in the face of Justine’s lifelong vegetarianism. She soon finds herself dealing with a strange rash all over her body and discovers that she’s developed an insatiable craving for raw meat. This dangerous hunger takes Justine down a dark path.
Despite the disgusting subject matter, RAW is a gorgeous film to look at. Director/screenwriter Julia Ducournau clearly has talent behind the camera as she’s able to keep scenes naturally rolling through long unbroken takes that (at first) capture the chaos of our innocent protagonist being thrown into college life and (later on) bring a sense of danger to the party environment. There’s a definite sexual angle thrown into this film about cannibalism too. This sexuality makes this artsy horror flick feel slightly erotic at points, especially when a couple of unconventional sex scenes are thrown at the viewer. Also, Ducournau builds an intense atmosphere of impending dread. The viewer nervously waits for the tipping point into gory madness.
Unfortunately, RAW’s biggest problem is that it keeps the viewer waiting and that tipping point never really arrives. Part of this could have been the hype (talk of barf bags, fainting audience members and stellar praise) and part of this falls directly onto the screenplay. RAW never gets as graphic and nasty as it could/should have been. I can appreciate the less-is-more, slow-burn approach that the director was taking, but this cannibal film should have had more actual cannibalism. Rest assured though, there are gory bits and shocking moments that do make a strong impact. However, it felt like the viewer was supposed to anticipate something that never came. Also, I was disappointingly able to predict a plot “twist” so far in advance that it came off as a last-minute shrug during the final minutes.
Though it underwhelms in the gore department and eventual pay-off, RAW contains stellar performances. Garance Marillier acts her heart out as Justine. This timid vegetarian finds herself losing innocence in all sorts of ways and the film treats her story as a twisted coming-of-age tale. Her transformation from a shy “average” girl to a seductive temptress with an insatiable hunger for human flesh is pretty scary. Ella Rumpf is fantastic as Justine’s drunken, far more open sister. I don’t want to say much more about Rumpf’s scenes for any potential spoilers, but she makes one hell of an impression. Rabah Nait Oufella is likable as Justine’s nice guy roommate. Though they aren’t onscreen for more than a few brief scenes, Laurent Lucas and Joanna Preiss are appropriately frustrating as Justine’s overbearing parents.
In the end, RAW isn’t as amazing as you’ve probably heard it is. This film has shocking scenes, but is far from the gorefest that people have made it out to be (and that I was looking forward to). The script is occasionally easy to predict (a last-minute twist is obvious early-on) and drags in moments (with one interesting subplot being completely dropped after two scenes of build-up). Still, the film makes an eerie impression through strong visuals, a tense atmosphere, disturbing subject matter, and great performances across the board. This is a really good French horror flick that probably should/could have been great. If you’re in the mood for a strange French cannibal flick (and who isn’t?), then you’d do well to check RAW out! Just be sure to temper your expectations onto a reasonable level before entering the theater.