Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast, Universal Monsters Cast and Land of the Creeps horror podcasts. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.
It’s been 10 years since the release of “Inside,” and nine since “Martyrs” hit the scene, but with 2016’s “Raw,” writer / director Julia Ducournau has proven the French still have an “appetite” for the extreme (pun intended… and my apologies).
Justine (Garance Marillier), a lifelong vegetarian, is one of many new students at a prestigious veterinary school, the very institution her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) now attends. At first, Justine, who is incredibly smart and a little shy, has a hard time fitting in; aside from her gay roommate Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella), she hasn’t been able to make any friends.
Then, during a freshman hazing ritual, Justine is forced to eat a raw rabbit liver. Having never consumed meat before, she has an allergic reaction and breaks out in a nasty rash. But this tiny piece of liver does more than make her itch; it changes her life. All at once, Justine develops a yearning for meat (mostly raw), and it isn’t long before her newfound appetite takes a disturbing turn.
Is Justine truly a freak of nature (as she believes), or did she come by her bizarre new cravings honestly?
“Raw” is a visceral genre film of the highest order, a picture drenched in blood and dripping with carnage. But like “Inside” and “Martyrs” before it, “Raw” is much more than the sum of its gore sequences; whereas, “Inside” was ultimately about dealing with loss, and “Martyrs” presented a search for a higher truth, “Raw” tells the story of a girl who has found her true self. Having escaped the strict regimen imposed on her by her vegetarian parents, Justine consumes meat for the first time, and it has an overwhelming effect on her.
Suddenly, Justine can’t get enough raw meat, whether human or otherwise (a scene involving a severed finger is arguably the most uncomfortable in the entire film). But it’s more than just the food she now eats. Justine’s personality also evolves; the withdrawn, demure girl who arrived at school gradually disappears, and an outgoing young woman exploring her own sexuality takes her place (Justine even manages to lure the openly gay Adrien into her bed). Eating meat hasn’t just expanded her dietary options, however; it’s also unlocked her true potential, and as we will discover later in the film, the cravings Justine now experiences have had a similar effect on others.
Ella Rumpf delivers a solid performance as Alexia, the elder sibling who tries (and more often than not fails) to take Justine under her wing, but it’s Garance Marillier’s turn as Justine, the frightened teenager forced to confront some unpleasant truths about herself, who steals the show. Early on, we sympathize with Justine, a brilliant but reserved student whose experience with raw meat sparks an emotional evolution within, transforming her from a girl into a young woman, ready to face the world. Marillier perfectly conveys these two extremes of her character’s personality (introvert and self-confident party girl), and despite her abnormal “appetites,” Justine remains, at all times, the film’s most sympathetic character.
Simultaneously savage and unflinching, “Raw” is guaranteed to give your gag reflex a workout. But it also relates what could very well be the most unique coming-of-age tale ever conceived, and this particular aspect of the movie will, I’m sure, prove every bit as memorable as the moments that will make you turn away in disgust.
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