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John’s Horror Corner: Raw (2016), a French horror film offering coming-of-age allegory on addiction and impulse control.

December 7, 2017

MY CALL:  This is one of those neo-contemporary pseudo-horrors that are difficult to classify.  Just watch it.  It’s cool—and even if you don’t like it, it’s likely worth the experience.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Raw:  Films that have a lot to say include The Neon Demon (2016), Black Swan (2010), Antichrist (2009), Ginger Snaps (2000) and Brain Damage (1988).

Yes. This is that film that every well-seasoned horror fan told you to see. It’s the film that made everyone’s “best of” lists.  But what exactly is it?  That’s something on which you probably weren’t advised.  It’s a contemporary something or other… but which… something, or other?  I heard some compare it to movies about cannibals… others to modern werewolves or zombies or… it’s best to leave it alone until you see it for yourself.

Living a sheltered, conservative life, Justine (Garance Marillier) is dropped off at her dorm with a pink suitcase and a kiss.  New to veterinary school, Justine finds herself hazed by the upper classmen.  She’s ridiculed, subjugated, and forced to eat rabbit kidneys as a rite of passage.  Being from a family of vegetarians, it took some significant peer pressure that apparently even broke her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf).

Written and directed by Julia Ducournau, this exploration of academic normatives provisions allegory to the consequences of such submissions.  Despite being against her will, Justine develops horrible itching and rashes as she falls into an impulsive addiction-withdrawal behavior after her exposure and begins to crave blood… meat… raw meat… and more.  Her drive is almost primal, and you may recoil as you witness Justine pushing away those who care, hurting those she loves, and alienating herself.  It’s all too familiar (for some of us viewers, anyway).

Justine’s innocence is not limited to ingested carnal exposure, but to more intimate experiences as well.  Her cravings for flesh are paralleled by maturing desires, conflicts, complications; and her journey may just as readily remind one of Ginger Snaps (2000) as Brain Damage (1988)—although far more elegantly executed.  But be not fooled.  This description has all the trappings of something that could topple affray into exploitation—and nothing of the sort will befall your eyes.  Scenes of premiere sexual encounters, a graphic bikini wax, and collegiate drug-induced nudity are equally provocative yet uncomfortable.  This foreign film will shock you with scenes of disfigurement and gory revelations.  They are few, but they are unnerving.

All temptations are mitigated with consequence, and those consequences may be awkward or serious.  I guess interesting, however basic the term, is the best word for all this.  This film is interesting, and it constantly taunts one to wonder with every scene to what end Justine will succumb.  Let’s just say it’s neither outside the realm of predictable, nor expected.

It won’t please everyone, it may even disappoint, but this film is a unique journey well worth the ride.

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