During my first year away at college I went to a party. Well, I went to a few parties, but this is the one that illustrates the point I want to make, so I’m going to focus on it. So, I went to this party and my college roommates were there as well. I didn’t really know my roommates before moving in with them. I kind of knew a guy from my hometown that had an apartment off-campus with a few other guys and they needed a roommate that year, so it just kind of worked out. Anyway, I show up at this party with one of my best friends and everybody is trashed, including us, something that is always a recipe for success. Everything about this story is really hazy, but what I do remember is this: at one point in the night my friend and one of my roommates got into an altercation (mainly drunk screaming) and things escalated to fightin’ words. While I’m not sure anyone was innocent, my roommate was the one mostly in the wrong. What’s always bugged me about this incident is that I didn’t stand up for my friend during the argument. I let him get kicked out of the party and I stayed. It was a shitty thing to do, and I did it so that I wouldn’t cause any problems in my new living situation. Not siding with my friend was the most convenient choice I could make at the time, and it was the choice that allowed me to skate by without any trouble with my roommates. My friend got really pissed at me, then eventually forgave me (I’m pretty sure at least), but it’s something that bothers me to this day, and it’s a story that ran through my head while watching RAW.
There’s a moment in RAW where the main character has to make a choice as well. Justine (Garance Marillier) is a lifelong vegetarian, away at veterinary school, and away from home for the first time in her life. As part of a hazing ritual by the older students at the school, the new class has paint dumped on them and are forced to eat raw rabbit kidneys. Justine refuses to eat the kidney, stating that she is a vegetarian, until her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), an upperclassman at the school comes over and pressures her into eating it. Eating the rabbit kidney awakens the cannibalistic urges inside of Justine and the rest of the movie follows her as she tries to cope with these newfound urges. All of this happens because she allows herself to be pressured into eating the rabbit kidney so she can please her sister and fit in. For Justine, eating the rabbit kidney is the most convenient choice she can make at the time.
RAW is a movie about a lot of things, but it’s the repercussions that occur when a person compromises their beliefs due to outside pressure that stuck with me the most. Away at college, and away from home for the first time in her life, Justine is someone who just wants to fit in. She’s smart, quiet, and not comfortable with the college lifestyle in the way that her older sister is. Throughout the film, Alexia is at her side trying to get Justine to step outside of her comfort zone, but a lot of times it is in ways that are dangerous to herself and to others. There’s one scene, in particular, that stands out where Alexia gives her sister a Brazilian wax. Like the rabbit kidney scene, it’s another moment where Alexia pressures Justine into doing something that she isn’t comfortable with, but Justine goes along with it, because she wants to fit in and make her sister happy. It’s also another instance where after Justine compromises, things go horribly wrong. I’m not going to spoil what happens in the scene, but I will say that it ‘s home to one of the best shots I’ve seen in any movie all year. It’s a moment that the director, Julia Ducournau, plays as shocking, intense, and a little bit funny.
Shocking, intense, and a little bit funny, is how you can describe most of Ducounau’s work in RAW. This is the 31-year old’s first major film as a director, and it’s one of the most assured horror debuts I have seen in a long time. I’m not sure if Ducounau’s future is in the genre, but if she wants it to be, she’s one of the most talented young horror filmmakers out there. The movie is all at once; smart, funny, energetic, gripping, and paced extraordinarily well. And Gory. RAW isn’t an easy watch. During RAW’s theatrical run, the Nuart theatre in Los Angeles actually handed out barf bags to those attendance. I never felt like I needed a barf bag, but that’s a neat little William Castle-esque gimmick, and in a way, it conveys the lighter touch exhibited by the movie at times. RAW juggles a lot of different tones, but it’s never grim like a lot of other current independent and foreign horror. There are some incredibly dark moments in RAW, for sure, but there is a youthful energy, and knowing humor, coursing through the film as well.
As impressive as Ducounau is, the film doesn’t work without its two lead performances. Garance Miller and Ella Rumpf are phenomenal, providing the beating heart of the film; because RAW, at its core, is a tale of two sisters. Without giving too much away, the sisters behave the way most siblings do, only with these two, their sibling squabbles are heightened to another level. They fight, they bicker, they play awful tricks on each other, but they’re still family. They’ve grown up in the same house, faced the same pressures, and that has given them a deep bond that anchors the film during some of its more extreme moments. Miller is probably the standout of the film though. She is asked to do quite a bit; as this is a coming of age film, she actually has to come of age during the movie. Justine starts the film as a shy quiet type, and blossoms into something completely different, and in many ways more assured, by the end of it. Oh, and she also has to pretend like she’s eating people at the same time. So that’s got to be tough. Unless she’s actually a cannibal, which I don’t think she is. I don’t know. It wasn’t on the Wikipedia page, at least.
RAW is a pretty major piece of work, especially for a debut film. It’s all at once, a cannibal film, family drama, coming of age tale, and mediation on what it means to lose, or maybe find, yourself as you grow older. In terms of 2017 horror movies, this is probably going to end up being the year of GET OUT, and that’s cool, GET OUT is a great movie, but I’m not sure if I’ve seen a horror movie this year that hit me harder than RAW.