WHFS: Raw, Spring break Edition

Spoilers Warning: I recommend watching the film before reading about it. I’m trying not to add any spoilers in this page but there may be a few. If you read any of the full articles I quote there are definitely spoilers. 

This week is spring break and because I tend not to follow the trends of popular society, rather than going wild and getting drunk I’m detoxing. Good thing April is the month of poetry cause I’m getting drunk on words instead. [In obnoxiously pretentious voice]: This might not be a poem in the classic sense but really what is a poem– 

Before spring break I attended an open house at UGA’s veterinary clinic with some young students I work with. To prepare for the field trip I watched a few movies. One of the films I watched was especially sobering, can you guess which one?

(a) The Truth About Cats and Dogs,
(b) Dr. Dolittle, and  
(c ) Raw 

Raw (2016) from director Julia Ducournau (Titane, 2021).
I came across this one at the public library. It’s a movie with a topic that is dear to my heart in the horror genre– Cannibalism. Not a lot of storytellers tackle this topic, Zombie stories, the Santa Clara Diet, Green Inferno, what else? 

IMDB synopsis: “A young woman, studying to be a vet, develops a craving for human flesh.” 

Rotten Tomatoes:  “CRITICS CONSENSUS Raw‘s lurid violence and sexuality live up to its title, but they’re anchored with an immersive atmosphere and deep symbolism that linger long after the provocative visuals fade. Read critic reviews

From other reviewers:

Review by Brian Eggert October 1, 2021, https://deepfocusreview.com/reviews/raw/ “The film, set against the backdrop of university hazing, explores a young straight-A overachiever discovering new desires and pleasures of the flesh. Ducournau uses one taboo subject, cannibalism, to mine the sometimes-taboo subject (at least in certain conservative circles) of female sexuality on film. Creating a rich metaphor for coming of age and sexual awakening, Ducournau achieves a brilliantly feminist network of intellectual and bodily symbols. Full of visceral horror and a thoughtful meditation on the various hungers of youth, Raw is a blazingly original and confidently crafted debut.” … “Raw might be considered a late entry in the gristly subcategory of New French Extremity, where French filmmakers have experimented with bloody and transgressive imagery loaded with poetic meaning. A label coined by James Quandt in Artforum, New French Extremity reached its height in the early 2000s with Alexandre Aja’s High Tension (2003), Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s) (2007), and Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs (2008).”

Review by Briana Dorley https://collider.com/raw-ending-themes-explained/ 

“Raw produced a captivating and stomach-churning body horror unlike any other film in recent years. Blending a story of youth with an undiscussed family history of barely tamed inhumanness, all while using a veterinary college as the setting opened the door for some distinctive visual commentary on animal rights and abuses, mass production of first world countries food supply farms and sources, and even the fall from the grace of youth.”

This film covers a lot of coming-of-age themes: leaving the nest, rituals of joining new communities, setting boundaries, and exploring sexuality.

Drawing boundaries for oneself, leaving the nest of our parents and family is not just about unmitigated freedoms, it is a ritual of leaving home, finding who we are, and setting our own boundaries in the world. Our families try to help us set boundaries but eventually it’s up to each person to do that work for themselves.

At the beginning of the film we’re introduced to parents taking their child to university for the first time. We won’t really see them again until they appear again in the finale to bookend the film. Without being physically present these two characters drive the plot. We understand that Justine’s parents (played by Joana Preiss and Laurent Lucas) set very strict boundaries around eating meat and that they are otherwise overbearing, especially the mother/la mere. Their two daughters, Justine and Alexia, only years apart, attend the same prominent veterinary school as where they met. So, right away, we understand that everyone we know in this film so far has attended this school. The university is in a secluded rural area. This gives us a feeling that these two young women have grown up in a bubble and don’t know a lot about the outside world. There’s a feeling of them being very innocent and naive and since this is horror we know that that naivety is going to get them into some trouble somehow. 

As the film progresses, we watch them as they play out the difficulties of trying to be open-minded while trying to set boundaries for themselves. Like the stereotypical university experience, they fall into the traps of hedonism/sadism as a way to balance the stress of academics. We watch the youngest daughter Justine (played by Garance Marillier) go through first year hazing rituals that include eating a rabbit liver, getting kicked out of bed in the middle of the night, and attending wild parties. The older sister (played by Ella Rumpf) has little sympathy for her sister as she’s already been jaded by these initiations.

Their flawed behavior is both intriguing, disgusting, and yet relatable to our tropes about attending university. As a viewer, we can empathize with the rituals, the parties, the balancing of school /work/ social lives, the sibling rivalry, the bullying, and the psychological and physical abuse. Yet, we can see that they’ve clearly crossed a boundary that we ourselves wouldn’t dare or at least hope we wouldn’t.

Another character we see struggle with boundary setting is Justine’s roommate Adrien. As soon as they meet in their new dorm room we see something is off about this society we’re stepping into. Her comment ‘I picked a girl roommate’ responded

N guiuousna his hu hijh huh h ih hUnited h iwith his flippant ‘well I’m gay so it’s basically the same thing’ opens a window into where this place is socially.

We see Justine drawn to Adrien’s uninhibited self-expression. In the bedroom and on the soccer field Adrien has the confidence that Justine seems to desire. She mistakenly desires him sexually and pursues a relationship because she clearly feels comfortable with him in ways she doesn’t seem to with other people at the school. Through her attempts at persuading him, we learn a bit about Adrien’s background and the repressed and bigoted community he may have left when going to school. We watch him try to set boundaries with her and fail multiple times to hold fast to them. While the film clearly provokes us to think about human sexuality it doesn’t necessarily demonize it. Maybe you’ll have another opinion on this plot point, but the story doesn’t seem to be anti-gay, or anti-sexual expression, however, their society is the backdrop of this campus where people are trying to figure out how to express themselves. To me, rather than saying ‘sex is bad’ it seemed to make the point that when young people grow up in repressive communities or grow up not talking about the reality of sexuality they get a bit shocked and/or indulgent in detrimental ways. This film takes that idea to the extreme in the name of horror. The horror of the plot relies on the audience understanding the trope of young people embarking out into the world and having left the restrictions of their previous community they binge on their new freedoms and act belligerently. This makes me wonder ‘what if these characters had grown up being able to express themselves or safely be out and open in their home communities? Would these young people feel so desperate to express or hide in ways that put them and others in harm’s way? Would the film plot still work?’

To conclude: 

This film plays out like an old school Aesop fable where innocent and good people go out on an adventure and then find horror beyond their wildest dreams. The film suggests that despite being brilliant and academically disciplined enough to get into a prominent veterinarian school these students don’t know how to control themselves. There seems to be a philosophical assumption in the film’s subtext that humans are still just animals acting on their base impulses. 

In their own time at the university, the sisters both end up pushing back against their family’s vegetarianism without ever questioning why they were practicing it in the first place. We can see this theme throughout the plot. All these characters tend to fall into behavior patterns without questioning any of them or giving much push back. They don’t question their parents’ strict rules, they hardly push back on the crude initiation rituals, they don’t question the parties, getting drunk, sexual promiscuity, and they don’t push back on asinine comments by professors. They don’t really think through their actions and so we see this kind of naive belligerent plague this remote school campus. By the end of the film, we find that when their parents went to that school they also did very little to question the culture of the student body and now are facing the consequences. It’s like the writers are trying to impart some morals by poking at this family’s generation trauma.

What did you think of this film, What’s your review of it? Thanks for reading with your eyes, ears, and hands. As always
Raise hell peacefully,
Anne Arkhane

Drink of Choice:

Pomegranate juice
Strong, healthy, tangy, bloody delicious

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s