I try to keep an eye out for international releases as much as I can; but considering I see about two to three American films per week (yes, really), I do tend to overlook the majority of films released overseas. So I tend to limit myself to such films that are garnering “best of the year” or “weird as hell,” which brings us to today’s offering, Raw (2017). It’s a French movie about cannibals hanging out in a veterinarian school and it involves healthy amounts of blood and sex. Sounds like a “weird as hell” candidate, but I actually checked this one out as multiple friends and critics were declaring this to be one of the “best of the year.” Does it really match up to that standard? Well it’s on Netflix, I had an afternoon free, and there’s only one way to find out…you read my bloody review.
We mostly follow Justine (Garance Mariller), a lifelong vegetarian who is about to enter veterinarian school and is a given a gay roommate named Adrien (Raabah Naït Oufella). Right before school begins, she and her class get thrown into the most absurdly crazy hazing ritual I’ve ever seen. Hardcore partying, heavy drinking, copious amounts of sex, and animal blood. Hey, it’s veterinarian school, remember? But after being hazed into consuming a raw kidney by her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), Justine begins experiencing a skin-crawling rash all over her body as well as an insatiable appetite. Suddenly her vegetarian upbringing aren’t enough for her to resist the call of meat any longer…up to and including human meat. But in the midst of controlling her bizarre fondness for human flesh, getting presented with sex at every opportunity, and juggling her classes, Justine also discovers a dark secret she shares with Alexia.
So as you can tell from the plot summary, this is an odd duck of a movie dealing with sex and violence. Strangely enough, it skirts just around the edges of exploitation to hang in the more interesting venue of character study. What I mean is that the sex scenes don’t feel unnecessary and in your face, honestly it’s pretty tame compared to anything you would see in Fifty Shades Darker (though you would have an easier time getting off to this movie than calamity). It’s also really not that violent…oh sure blood stains are everywhere and maybe you’ll see an exposed organ or two, but it’s definitely not as relentless as say Hacksaw Ridge. I think the word I’m looking for is tasteful, the gross imagery you see on display is meant to give you an emotional reaction but it never goes above the bounds of most people’s sensibilities. Which is nice, because there’s a really great character study going on here between two sisters and a woman exploring her sexuality.
Justine and Alexia start the film off with a distant relationship they try to mend with excessive partying. But it’s clear that the older and more experienced Alexia has little patience for the virginal Justine, so she doesn’t have much sympathy towards her when Justine is confused by her new environment away from the strict teachings of their parents. Alexia is also the very rebellious type and far more laissez faire about partying, drinking and…other extracurricular activities, whereas Justine is just a flat out book nerd who’s clearly uncomfortable with her fellow classmates.
Particularly with her roommate, Adrien, who usually brings a few guests over for fun times…which especially pisses Justine off since she specifically requested a female roommate. Despite this, she forms a real genuine friendship with Adrien that was pretty believable, and even touches upon interesting ideas regarding sexuality between the two. These two actors did a stellar job at having some impressive chemistry, but I was particularly impressed with Alexia’s actress as well. She’s got some shades of Angelina Jolie in Girl Interrupted that I really enjoyed, because Ella Rumpf has this solid charisma that draws you in even as she exposes her sister to a world outside of the comfort of their parents’ home.
This includes the whole cannibalism aspect, which is seemingly used as a metaphor for…I think sexual cravings? Honestly, that whole angle is really not well developed for my tastes (pun intended). See, every time Justine starts chewing down on meat, she does so in the most erotic way imaginable. Think that really obvious Carl’s Jr commercial featuring a supermodel chewing on a massive hamburger as sensually as possible. It’s very hard not to laugh when you have that in mind, especially as Justine is covered in all manners of blood. But there are tons of moments in the film where the movie seems to be using the eating humans thing as partaking in sexual desire and…it doesn’t really work all the time.
Some scenes are more effective than others concerning the metaphor, but others fall flat completely. And while I admit the movie didn’t beat me over the head with what it was symbolizing, the conclusion (while effective) left me with a big “so what the hell was the movie trying to say?” Still, there are several pretty great scenes that overshadow the weaker ones. ESPECIALLY that ending. God, I want to watch people see this movie only for me to see their big WTF face when they see some big reveals.
Further, I really did enjoy a lot of the character moments between your three leads. They’ve got a lot of interesting things to say in their dialogue, I just don’t believe the film has much more to say beyond that. Still, lots of stylistic flourishes with camera and music really got me into hypnotic trance as the film kept throwing at me curve ball after weird event, so I can’t say I wasn’t entertained. As a matter of fact, I really enjoyed this film.
It’s a solid movie with dreams about becoming something more that aren’t fully fleshed out (God I love these puns), but the film has plenty of strong performances and weaves an interesting yarn that I definitely want to recommend people to check this one out. Like I said, it’s out on Netflix for the world to see, so sit back and enjoy a bizarre little side trip into cannibalism. Giving Raw a solid…