I recently had the opportunity to see something…disgusting. Keep in mind that I consider myself a connoisseur of “disgusting” films. This is not a term that I just throw around. I was recently invited to a secret screening, where the audience was unaware of the film to be screened until your ass was in the seat. We were promised it would be worth the suspense, and it would be something that hasn’t been screened outside of some very small film festival audiences.
I had heard rumors about the film. I had heard the stories, but haven’t we all? From people throwing up, people passing out, even that an ambulance needed to be summoned. I usually chalk this hyperbole up to nothing more than sneaky marketing tactics. I am not saying that ‘Raw” is that film, but it is definitely not for the novice horror crowd. Still reading? Alright, then you’re in for something special.
Upon entering the theater, there was a buzz among the crowd about what we were about to see. Everyone was throwing out their guesses as to what this “secret” film could be. It was surprising to see a packed house for an unknown film, and an enthusiastic crowd to boot. At roughly 3pm, Dread Central’s own Brad McHargue took to the stage and warned us about what we were about to see. He mentioned that Raw had caused quite a stir when it debuted at Cannes. He also mentioned that he was unaware of any marketing tactics, but that there were reports of people passing out during some previous screenings. It was at this point that two gentlemen got up and left the theatre to the jeers and taunts of a rabid horror crowd. It was a nice moment of levity that almost validated our choice to be here. In this writer’s opinion, the film did not disappoint.
Raw is, at its center, a coming of age story. Albeit a pretty warped and deranged take on this classic archetype. Raw comes to us as a French/Belgian co-production, so yes it is in French. As most true horror fans know, most of the good stuff these days is foreign, and the French do it better than most. Just look at films like ‘High Tension’ or ‘Martyrs’ and you’ll get the picture.
Raw tells the story of a young woman named Justine and her entry into a prestigious veterinary college. From the opening moments of the film, it is made abundantly clear that Justine is a vegetarian of the highest order. Her mother nearly blows a gasket when a piece of meat is accidentally placed on Justine’s plate at her farewell dinner. Justine seems far less concerned, but it is an important piece of the story. Upon her arrival at the university, Justine is immediately thrust into an intense hazing and party culture that would make the Wolf of Wall Street cringe. It’s pretty full on from the first moments.
At the inauguration party we are introduced to Justine’s older sister, who is an upperclassmen and an integral part of the hazing. After the pledges mattresses and personal belongings are tossed out the window, the new recruits are then doused in blood. We are led down a hallway of portraits to see that almost all previous classes have been through this “initiation” ritual. Innocently (and disgustingly) enough, the hazing culminates with the traditional eating of the raw rabbit kidney. Justine at first refuses, but then realizing that she desperately desires the approval of her peers, she reluctantly eats the organ. It is here that things start to change.
Justine starts to realize that she has a taste for meat, and to say it’s “insatiable” is an understatement. This begins to manifest in an almost compulsive way. While checking out at the school cafeteria, she instinctively shoves a gravy-slathered piece of Salisbury steak into her pocket. She gets caught, but almost doesn’t even realize that she did it. Things progress into the consumption of raw meat, and even the theft of dissection components from the classroom. It is in these moments that the uses of extreme close-up and expert sound design make these scenes so cringe worthy. Even before we get to the “horror” territory, the scenes involving food are very off putting. The tone always maintains a sense of naivety and innocence that almost makes what were seeing like a cry for help. We genuinely empathize with Justine on her journey of self-discovery. It is her childlike disposition that makes some of her decisions borderline humorous.
All of these changes begin to take place while Justine is navigating the social hierarchy of the school, as well as coming to terms with her blossoming sexuality. To say that her new found “urges” complicate matters, is an understatement. Justine barely knows who she is, and she has lived a very cultivated life. This new environment seems to be sensory overload. It isn’t until a pubic waxing experiment goes horribly awry, that Justine learns her taste is more geared toward meat of the human variety. Without giving too much away, it also seems that her sister understands these urges more than Justine knows. Could this be a hereditary issue? How far do these cravings go?
Raw walks a fine line of fun/gross out. In my opinion it walks this tightrope with the finesse of a true master. Much of the crowd was squirming the whole time, and MOST of them were on board for the ride. I can absolutely understand this film being too much for some. If you can make it to the end, I think most of you will be glad you did. Not to mention the fact that Raw has one of the most satisfying “oh shit” endings in recent memory. A good portion of the audience actually applauded at the conclusion of the story.
Raw is scheduled to be hit theaters and VOD in early December. It may be the perfect date movie for that special someone who’s as sick as you! I highly recommend this film, and if you’ve got the stomach, it’s well worth the wait and the hype!! Raw has definitely climbed its way to the top of my “best of 2016” list of horror films. There have been a few other strong contenders, but as of this writing, Raw may be my highlight of the year. Take that with a grain of salt…and gravy.