I was fine with the cannibalism, but everything else irked me.
Garance Marillier plays Justine, a young woman entering veterinarian college. On her first night, a hazing ritual sees masked men invade the dorms and force the half-dressed freshmen to march and crawl across the campus. I struggled with the students’ reaction. No one asserted themselves or fought back. Maybe it’s a cultural thing (it’s a French film) but the herd imagery felt too pointed.
The plot kicks in when another hazing ritual forces Justine—a lifelong vegetarian—to try meat. This first taste unlocks an insatiable craving for human flesh.
On the surface, Raw is about Justine discovering and battling her cannibalistic urges. But writer/director Julia Ducournau positions cannibalism as a metaphor for addiction, escaping overbearing parents, discovering one’s sexuality, defending animal rights, and struggling to escape an older sibling’s shadow.
Juggling so many metaphors leaves little time for subtlety. It’s frustrating. Several scenes made me uncomfortable, but said discomfort felt manipulative and obnoxious. Other scenes fall apart upon reflection. Some scenes do both. The night following her first taste of meat, Justine awakens covered in huge itchy welts with swaths of her skin peeling off in dry sheets. She yawns and goes back to sleep.
Perhaps I’m too far from the target audience. Being neither French, nor a woman, and having no siblings, perhaps I’m unable to relate. After reading multiple rave reviews, I revisited the film but found myself just as alienated.
Still, Raw has its strengths. The cinematography grabbed my attention from the opening shot, and the performances convince to the degree the script allows. Marillier, in particular, delivers a fearless performance in a role that affords her no makeup and little wardrobe to hide behind.
But for a film desperate to frame its genre elements as a serious conceit, too many details strained credibility. Justine as a cannibal? Sure. But a campus full of kids not glued to their smartphones? Preposterous.