The transition from being a teenager to an adult can be agonizing. A teenager simultaneously feels excited about new responsibilities yet they are just becoming accustomed to life outside the warm comforting sphere of their parents. This is especially true for women, as they also have to navigate the minefield that is sexual awaking in a society that still has skewed notions of gender roles and agency. Director Julia Ducournau deftly weaves sexuality and gruesome horror together in her coming-of-age film Raw.
Raw follows the trials of a young vegetarian woman named Justine (Garance Marillier) who is leaving home for the first time to attend veterinary school. Her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) has already been at the school for a year but doesn't offer much help to Justine when it comes to fitting into the social ladder. During a hazing ritual by some upperclassmen, Justine is forced to partake of some raw meat which stirs up long dormant carnal desires she didn't know she had.
This film has an intimate, indie type feel that makes it much easier to emphasize with Justine's issues. Marillier plays her with this incredible emotional vulnerability that is the perfect contrast to her grotesque cravings that she starts to manifest later in the film. She is frightened of her feelings, but at the same time intrigued by them. Women are taught to suppress their sexual desires for fear of being called a "slut" (this is perpetrated by both men and women) but once they get a taste of freedom it becomes a forbidden fruit of sorts. I find the use of blood in Raw to be interesting symbolism because for most women our first menses is the sign that we have left our childhood behind and have become a sexual being capable of becoming pregnant. In the olden days, when a couple first consummated their marriage, they would hang the bloodied sheet out the window the next morning as a sign that the woman had been taken--and ultimately broken. Women have been metaphorically "born" in blood, as it were.
Justine's craving for human flesh and her craving for sexual intimacy merge together to the point where she cannot discern between the two. Although much has been made about the gory nature of this film, I did not find it to be gratuitous though it is shocking at times. The way the horror is presented is riveting and artfully done--this style permeates all parts of the film. The framing of shots is gorgeous and everything has a slightly surreal feel to it. Jim Williams' (known for his work on all four Ben Wheatley films) score is fantastic as it combines foreboding ambient sounds with a strong string-based melody that kicks in at all the right scenes.
There is a strong sardonic thread of humor that runs through the entirety of Raw, which makes the horrific parts a bit easier to swallow. The tumultuous relationship between Justine and her sister Alexia especially rang true with their tendency to flip between love and hate at the drop of a hat. There can be a feeling of competitiveness that develops between women, even if they care about each other, that is unspoken but felt by both parties. This ties into the theme of predators competing for the same prey--the "prey" in this film being sexual partners or attention from a social group. Raw is a feminist film in this regard, as it tackles the issues of how women view themselves and others but it uses cannibalism as a stand-in for suppressed desires. It's genius really, and I found myself enthralled the entire film trying to unpack the ideology presented. Overall, this movie is an excellent commentary on gender roles, but also a damn fine horror flick as well.