These days, people seemed to have become desensitized to horror films, a cookie cutter Hollywood production line of demons and monsters. Hungry for a different kind of scare, some movie goers seek foreign films in which regulations are far laxer, and therefore far more terrifying things can happen on screen. One such French film shown at the Lyric over the weekend explores not the sinister doings of the supernatural and evil, but rather the sinister transformation of even the purest of heart.
Chaotic would not begin to describe the deliciously nightmarish film that is “Raw,” the French-horror debut of director Julia Ducournau. With a pernicious concoction of adolescent sexuality, id-ridden desires and dark humor, “Raw” delivers a truly unnerving tale of grisly self discovery. Belgian cinematographer Ruben Impens takes the audience uncomfortably close to gushing flesh along with the sticky and sweaty atmosphere of college parties.
The film follows Garance Marillier’s character Justine, a valedictorian and strict vegetarian as she makes her way through a veterinary college, the alma mater of both her parents, and where her older sister Alexia is a well-established upperclassman. In this strange, nameless, concrete compound of a university, upperclassmen put the freshmen through shocking means of hazing, the trigger of Justine’s disturbing transformation.
Rush week for the freshmen include the destruction of their personal things, being drenched in animal blood à la the film “Carrie,” and then the forced consumption of raw rabbit kidney, where Justine promptly throws it back up in front of her classmates. The only one by her side is Adrien, played by Rabah Nait Oufella, her gay roommate.
After an angry rash flares up all over Justine’s body, she can only suspect an allergic reaction from the meat she ate. Little does she know that this rash is only the beginning manifestation of an illness that turns her disgust for raw meat into an insatiable craving.
From what has been said thus far about this film, one would assume this is only about a cannibal. Did not we already cover that in “Silence of the Lambs?” Yes, but in reality, “Raw” is more of a debauched coming-of-age film, a young girl discovering herself in the most unorthodox way imaginable.
The curiosity that comes with college is timed perfectly with Justine’s new taste for flesh. She finds that alcohol and sex bring out her most forbidden impulses and soon, gas station burgers and even the raw chicken cutlets from her dorm fridge are not enough to satisfy her.
A freak accident involving her sister that gave a whole new meaning to finger foods, sends Justine into an uncontrollable spiral of constantly looking for her next fix. Once a doe-eyed, straight-A student Justine is now completely immersed in her new addiction, using her fellow classmates to satisfy her hunger in more than one way.
The deeper Justine dives into her new taste for human flesh, the more confident she becomes in herself. Director Julia Ducournau shows a twisted version of the dramatic time we all went through as teenagers, finding out who you really are as a person and dealing with the confusion and desperation that comes afterwards.
This multidimensional-horror film goes deeper than the surface of just making an audience jump, but rather makes their skin crawl days after with thoughts of humanity’s greatest taboo. “Raw” not only explores the fervent hungers that may lay in our subconscious, but also a young girl’s journey in becoming comfortable in her own skin, creating a unique and perfectly cringe-worthy contrast.
Should you watch it? Maybe.
If you can handle a film that reportedly made some people faint or lose their dinner, you will find a fresh and creepy spotlight on family, feminism and growing up.
Collegian reporter Sarah Ehrlich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SarahEhrlich96