By Sarah Vesely
RAW (2016) is a film unlike any other. Marketed in broad strokes of gratuitous gore and the feminist agenda, this film is actually quite digestible (pun partially intended) for cinephiles of many types. Note that yes, this is a graphic film and not for the faint of heart, but the graphic content is not cheap or gimmicky as seen in Hostel or others of the “gore porn” era. The graphic content is tasteful (oh boy) in that it’s a fantastic metaphor for body awareness and sexuality.
This coming-of-age story, centered around Justine, a young vet school student, is told through meticulous editing, careful art direction, and impeccable cinematography. Writer and director Julia Ducournau executes this film with seemingly effortless care. The visuals in the film unify the story just as well as the Dude’s rug tied his room together: the viewer gets a sense of the pressure and confinement Justine feels as a freshman in med school through the labyrinth-like architecture and puzzling layout of the campus. The subconscious psychology of the layout of the film alone seems to give a quiet nod to the impossibility of the Overlook Hotel’s floor plan in Kubrick’s 1980 classic, The Shining. Even beyond the production design, various moments of intimate framing and unique angles amplify Justine’s inner turmoil, making this all the more a successful psychological thriller as well as horror.
Recurring throughout the film is the parallel of humans to animals in an assembly line, heartless science kind of way. Don’t get me wrong-- this is not secretly a PETA film; it’s that the metaphors and underlying theme of the film are a fantastic commentary on how humans are just statistics and stereotypes, churned out like cows in a slaughterhouse, in the eyes of today’s culture and media. However, RAW focuses in on a young woman discovering her true self and becoming hyper aware of her own body. On the surface, yes, she craves raw flesh, but the subtext of that is the taboo around sex and sexuality. Justine craves the secular flesh, as it were. But the message of sex and sexuality in this film is not as one would expect. There is no meet-cute, there is no slut shaming, and there certainly is no grandiose rom com hook up. Instead, Justine’s second puberty, as it were, is a ride on a different crimson tide (sorry, not sorry). Befittingly yes, the menstrual color red is symbolic in this film for change: change in character, change in maturity, and change in tone. Julia Ducournau’s RAW is modern cinema at its finest, turning sexist cinema on its head.
The film has several subtle nods to staples of cinema, such as Psycho and The Godfather, and plays well into traditional movie structure. The horror elements are there, but not overbearing. The graphic scenes are visceral and disturbing, yet they are an integral part of the film. The score has subtle notes(puns again!) of Phillip Glass, Michael Nyman, and others, as well as fitting blends of modern music. RAW is well-orchestrated masterpiece, and absolute a must-see film for all movie lovers.