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Raw: The Perks of Being a Teen Cannibal
The gruesome new horror gracing our cinemas is Julia Ducournau’s film Raw. The French film depicts a young vegetarian, Justine, beginning at veterinary school. As soon as she arrives, weird rituals are performed, one involving the consumption of raw rabbit kidneys, that ultimately lead to an even weirder developing lifestyle. The animal within Justine growls, releasing a desire for flesh, sex and blood. Unlike the gore among many horror films, Raw places a romantic tone on the genre, reigniting the sacredness of blood and flesh, the primal nature of humans. As the repressed beast within gains more control, Justine becomes encapsulated by this prehistoric thirst. Garance Marillier’s (Justine) performance is haunting, leaving the audience in a state of allure but also disgust. Ducournau’s construction of this horror, it’s cinematography and enchanting music is what drives this romantic horror, leaving us in a state of enchanting Disturbia.
Gore has had the reputation as a cheap horror technique, one that allows small films to reach a large audience and make substantial profits in the business. This film does something different. It humanises and seductively alters the audience’s relationship to gore. Although our senses are undeniably assaulted, it is not due to the low-budget techniques met directors commonly used. The high-quality of this works is firstly portrayed in the realistic make-up and design work of the represented pieces of flesh. Our first intense encounter with the realistic devouring of flesh is when Justine eats her sister’s finger after it was accidentally sliced off. As the unconscious sister Alex (Ella Rumpf), eventually wakes, the audience is compelled to laugh, for who else would wake to a family member eating your severed finger, let alone any body part. Ducournau is clever in using these scenes to shock and humour her audience. It questions our world’s relationship to food and consumption. How are we so disgusted with seeing raw flesh that we can still cover our plates in masses of animal flesh, bone and blood? As many horror films do, Raw says a lot more than just cannabilism.
As an audience we almost relate to Justine, we are just as horrified as she is with her seemingly ‘unnatural’ urge to eat. Viewing the ‘monster’ in this way humanises the act, offering sympathy. We fear for the characters around her, especially her gay roommate Adrien (Rabah Nait), who she continually looks at, the same way a predator would look at its prey. Our fears are answered when she wakes to his dead body, having being ‘eaten’ in the night. It becomes clear, however, that it he was eaten by Alex, who she finds covered in blood playing video games. Her sister, throughout the film, acts as a guide in how to perform well in school, how to pee on a roof, how to be accepted by the other students, and of course — like all good sisters — how to eat human flesh. Her first lesson involves jumping out at a car and eating the victims who have died in the crash. The awfulness of the situations becomes beautiful, as we see the older animal teaching the younger one; it is merely a rite of passage. Ducournau revisits our primal teachings in familial and social situations. We are taught to eat, reproduce and fight.
As Justine’s hunger develops, she becomes hungry for sex and physical aggression. This animalistic representation of a human and her digress into almost insanity is what is so horrifying and yet entertaining to watch. She is more than the zombie or ax-murderer seen in other gory films. She is a living creature, submitting to her primal instincts. The beauty of this progression is followed by eery music. It is not about the jump-scare or the final reveal of the monster, for we are following the monster even before she is one. We follow from scene to scene, as she follows day to day. The struggle is felt in the slowness of the camera and tempo of the music. This relationship we hold with Justine is almost affectionate, as if we are watching a family member lose her social and human ways of life. This empathy and fear for Justine is the horror Ducournau focuses on, and yet only through this context does it reignite our understanding of the true horror. Once I left the theatre I was surrounded by people of the street consuming food. One girl tore at a lolly strap, a treat I remember from childhood. Yet only now, it was horrifying to watch. It reminded me of Justine nibbling at her sisters finger. A couple was playing with their food, the girl reaching playfully at her boyfriends meal. This was worse, it reminded me of the scene Justine reaches for the hand of a corpse, which is playfully pulled away by her sister. The horror of the film was found everywhere. It completely changes your perspective on people around you. We are all monsters with inner demons, with inner desires. If those desires unleash, I’m sure more things will come out than just the consumption of human flesh. We are a consuming society and Ducournau brings it to life in the most horrifyingly, effective way possible. It was one of the best gore horror films I’ve seen in a while. But I don’t think I’ll re-watch it just yet, I’m going to let my stomach settle first.