The coming-of-age genre has seen a resurgence in the last few years, thanks to many critically acclaimed additions. This year’s Oscars boast best picture nominations for Call Me By Your Name, a tale of first love and self-discovery bathed in Italian sun, and Lady Bird, a story of a teenager with an aching desire to prove herself. But few had noticed their kin was stalking from afar, with a coming-of-age story of the transformation of a cannibal.
The 16-year-old prodigy Justine (Garance Marillier) follows in the footsteps of her parents and sister and entered the same veterinary school in which they studied. The shy protagonist was thrown in an assortment of hazing rituals from the very first night. The initiation caused her to undergo a physical change. Justine, a vegetarian, started to develop a deep craving for human flesh.
When Raw was shown at 2016’s Toronto International Film Festival, it was reported that several audience members passed out during a screening, due to the intensity of a certain scene. An ambulance had to be called in to treat them. Of course, your viewing experience may depend on your tolerance to gore. Thanks to the movie’s realistic prosthetics, the skin-crawling scenes were hard to look at. At times I had to force my eyes to stay on the screen. But Raw did not strike fear in the audience by simply exposing them to blood and gore; the fear was as much psychological as it was graphical. In contrast to A Serbian Film or the Saw series’ sadistic approach to violence, Raw’s presentation of cannibalism was elegant and tasteful (no pun intended).
Raw had many traits of a coming-of-age movie, but (partly due to its unique subject matter) it did not have the same reliance on formulae as its school-based brethren did. But when Raw did borrow from them, everything you were familiar with was then corrupted and twisted to work in favor of wickedness. Raw is a sinister and ingenious reprise of the genre. Screenwriter and first-time director Julia Ducournau proficiently balanced the lightheartedness and the destructive desire buried deep within Justine. Jim Williams’s score also switched between carefree and ominous with ease. The most terrible horror was intertwined with charm.
Every successful coming-of-age film has a relatable protagonist. And the most horrifying part of Raw is that it had one as well. Marillier sold the transformation from an introvert push-over into a huntress who scanned for prey with her dehumanizing gaze. The hunger blossomed on screen had a mesmerizing quality to it, and it felt almost natural for her to want. I was simultaneously amazed and repulsed by the conflicted feelings her actions awoke in me. Against all reason, Justine’s tug-of-war of lust against self-loathing struck a chord. And with that nigh-impossible synchronization, the film dragged me down with Justine in a downward spiral into madness.
Raw is a delightfully disgusting film that was captivating from start to finish, and well-paced until toward the end. The unique spin on horror spoke of superb writing and directing effort that went unnoticed by mainstream awards. It’s definitely not for the squeamish, but I would recommend it to both horror and non-horror fans alike.