Written and directed by Julie Ducournau, Raw tells of veterinary student Justine (Garance Marillier), who is subjected to a series of humiliating and cruel initiations by the older students. Among the degrading rituals, Justine, a lifelong vegetarian, is forced to eat raw meat by her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf). This act awakens within Justine an insatiable bloodlust and craving for human flesh…
Raw is an unsettling, full-blooded odyssey of self-discovery and actualisation told from a fiercely feminist vantage. It stalks similar territory to titles such as Ginger Snaps and The Company of Wolves in its unwavering exploration of female sexuality (which historically has been shamed or out-rightly denied by patriarchal discourse). Indeed, there are several irresistible parallels with Ginger Snaps, not least the complex, often toxic bond between the sisters, and the intense cravings Justine experiences as her body reacts to her new appetites. And, like the Fitzgerald sisters, Justine begins to gain a deeper understanding of her own identity through her descent into othered ‘monstrosity.’ Unlike the aforementioned titles, Raw doesn't feature moments of outward, physical transformation, as Ducournau opts to use the figure of the cannibal to explore notions of adult sexuality. The protagonist gradually attains agency and self-determination through an unyielding appetite for human flesh.
While themes of body-horror and transformation underpin the story, Ducournau's screenplay maintains a strong focus on characterisation. The sisters, and their bond, is always centred as they work towards understanding who they are and the two very separate paths they are on. As the story progresses, the dynamics of the relationship shift as Justine gradually emerges from Alexia's shadow, which creates tension between the two. When Alexia lures Justine to the morgue after a drunken party, events culminate in a nightmarish incident, the humiliating aftermath of which parallels an act of revenge porn, revealing Alexia’s deep-rooted jealousy of her younger sibling. Justine’s transformation is further reflected in her changing relationship with her gay roommate Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella), which creates an uneasy tension. The way Justine observes and interacts with him gradually shifts from shy, curious glances, to strong, hungry gazes. Self-assured Adrien eventually becomes a confidant to her and this close connection intensifies when they have sex and Justine has to restrain herself by biting down on her own arm.
Ducournau lenses Justine's transformation in a highly clinical, corporeal manner, never rendering it fantastical. Even the gorier moments are never sensationalised, ensuring they have an incredibly potent impact. Justine initially exists in a transitional twilight space that hovers between childhood and adulthood. She arrives at university from a very protective home life, mollycoddled by her parents. When her taste for flesh is awakened, a ravenous sexuality is also unshackled, and Justine transitions from a place of innocence and curiosity to desire, determination and power. The university setting works to contextualise Ducournau’s detached observational approach to exploring Justine's transition, which is lensed in as matter-of-factly a manner as that of Justine and her classmates observing the dissection of animal carcasses in class.
Raw is an immersive, intimate body-horror with compelling, fully fleshed characters and searing with unforgettable imagery.