'Raw': A horror movie to chew on

The phrase “not for all tastes” might well have been invented for Raw, the French (with English subtitles) horror movie preceded by its grisly reputation.

Some have seen it at festivals and reportedly fled, moved to barf by what they have witnessed. Was it the cow getting an enema? A dog getting dissected? The bikini wax?

That third example signals what is actually remarkable about Raw – it’s a horror movie written and directed by a woman (Julia Ducournau), and it’s about women. The horror, such as it is, derives from a heightened projection (think of Carrie) of changes that occur to their bodies and their appetites (Ducournau applies the concept liberally) as they surpass puberty.

Justine (Garance Marillier) is making such a transition. She’s a freshman at a veterinary college, and the movie opens as she’s dropped off by her folks. Her mother identifies the buildings – there’s the school, there’s the morgue, and there’s the cafeteria. A matter of convenience, as we soon see.

Poor, shy Justine is set upon immediately – older students drag the “rookies” through a prolonged process of initiation, a dominant theme. More first times follow. Justine, a vegetarian, has her fist taste of meat, her first sexual experience.

Flesh awakens something in her, and she becomes, as Shaun’s mother so  memorably said in Shaun of the Dead, a “bit bite-y.”

Justine is very undiscriminating in what she chooses to bite, so be advised. She is also confused by her new impulses and behavior, and seeks the counsel of her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf), an upperclassman.

Their strange and evolving relationship becomes the core of the movie – a courageous festival programmer might one day pair Raw with Frozen, another movie about sisters who understand each other in a way the wider world cannot.

“Do you think I’m weird?”

Justine puts the question to Alexia, who may be the only person who can say no and mean it.

The rest of us are likely to be more judgmental, as we must contend with the movie’s extravagant gross-out gestures – the things that are eaten, the things that are done to animals (with the usual disclaimers).

I did not barf, but I did check my watch a few times. The movie had me thinking of Get Out, which starts with the same kind of teaser prologue and has the same conceptual, almost academic feel. For all of the viscera,  Raw does not pack a very visceral punch. 


Raw

Directed by Julia Ducournau. With Laurent Lucas, Rabah Naït Oufella, Ella Rumpf, Joana Preiss, Garance Marillier. Distributed by Focus World.

Running time: 1 hours, 35 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for aberrant behavior, bloody and grisly images, strong sexuality, nudity, language and drug use/partying).