Raw is a feminist cannibal movie – not an overpopulated genre, but one which, on the basis of this little gem, can certainly bear fruit.
OK, so the metaphors are not exactly subtle. The sadistic initiation rituals imposed on teenage ‘rookies’ at a prestigious veterinary college are compared – quite explicitly – to the rites of passage girls endure as they enter womanhood. Star student Justine (Garance Marrillier) soon finds that her academic excellence is of very little importance here: “I like the average students,” says her professor, “People like you make them feel bad.” Fitting in, becoming ‘average’ does not come naturally to Justine: she has a strong sense of her own identity and beliefs. But, adrift in a strange and hostile environment, she attempts to conform to these new norms, aided and abetted by her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumph), who is a year older and fully assimilated into the social mores of the veterinary college/womanhood. Alex mocks Justine’s hairy underarms, gives her an (unsuccessful) bikini wax, kits her out in a short dress and high heels. The sight of Justine tottering uncertainly in her sister’s shoes, literally hobbled by her need for acceptance, is a sad moment indeed.
A lifelong vegetarian, Justine baulks at the thought of eating what she is told is a raw rabbit kidney but all the rookies have to do it and Alex tells her it’s a deal-breaker. Justine forces herself to swallow the meat, but such self-betrayal is not without consequence. Her inner frustrations manifest themselves in true ‘madwoman in the attic’ form; she can’t contain her anger and starts to devour those who’ve made her change: her sister, her classmates, and even herself.
This is a smart, engaging movie with lots of blood and gore, as well as a mesmerising soundtrack and some stellar performances, particularly from Marrillier. While its message may be conveyed a little heavy-handedly, it’s astonishingly assured for a debut; writer/director Julia Ducournau is definitely one to watch.