REVIEW: Cannibalism meets coming of age in ‘Raw’ — certain to give viewers something to chew on

Garance Marillier stars as Justine in the French film ‘Raw,’ in which a sheltered, dogmatically vegetarian veterinarian student is exposed to meat for the first time and is awakened to a decidedly more enlightened yet sinister way of life. Promotional artwork courtesy of Frakas Productions.

Full of bold and ambitious delicacies, the French-Belgian debut film Raw from filmmaker Julia Ducournau takes classic coming of age themes and integrates it into a horror production that is anything but typical. While it portrays many themes teenagers will come to appreciate, it definitely isn’t for those with weaker stomachs. It choppingly blends unfiltered cannibalism into a symbol for sexual awakening and self-identity. Despite its hasty progression, Raw ultimately redeems itself as a flavorful concoction that will leave you craving for seconds. 

Newly inducted into veterinary school, Justine (Garance Marillier) is following in the footsteps of her parents and older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), hungering to fit in with her fellow classmates. This desperation only worsens as she’s coerced out of her vegetarian lifestyle and forced to eat the forbidden fruit. Much like Eve and her shiny apple, Justine faces her own transformative consequences. Good girl gone bad takes a new turn as one’s simple desire to try meat becomes far too imperative to ignore. Human flesh starts looking a bit too delicious for Justine’s own good, giving a uniquely new definition to the cuisine known as “finger food.” From adapting to a young adult lifestyle to newfound desires for your classmates (in more than one manner), Justine must learn to balance her appetites. 

Cannibalism tropes, while ultimately surprising in a coming of age film, can mix together shockingly well when done in a thoughtful manner. There’s so much possibility when it comes to comparing cannibalistic desires and self-identity, and while Raw certainly attempts this motion, it best achieves these themes within the last 30 minutes of this film. Justine’s descent into uncontrollable desires can be compared to sexual exploration, which in a film about young adults entering the real world, is genuinely a perfect symbol — especially for teens like Justine who were once living a sheltered life. That being said, Raw ultimately manages to succeed in exploring these concepts intimately. 

This film isn’t for everyone. Raw is still a horror movie through and through, though in much more extreme manners. It’s an experience unlike any other. Early on, you are thrown into unique psychological dramatics and horrors where cannibalism is no simple joke. You’ll experience every ounce of blood that spills and each bite of forbidden flesh first hand. Raw is bare, open, exposed. It takes willpower to get over the queasy reality this film portrays. If you have a weak stomach, skipping this film is the best decision for you.

Supposing you can stomach through, Raw makes up for its more putrid depictions with seamless transitions, despite how quickly the film moves. 

Viewers get their awaited relief with the intense character development, watching as Justine and Alexia claw and bite their way through the most troubling of cravings. This even applies to the resolve of an ongoing conflict of Justine’s sexually confused roommate Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella). His own sexual journey is a wonderful addition and side-plot to this film, so props are definitely awarded to Raw for including a wider range of coming of age themes. The end of this film is only the start of a new beginning for Justine, true to the dirty work involved in self-identity.

You’ll experience every ounce of blood that spills and each bite of forbidden flesh first hand. Raw is bare, open, exposed. It takes willpower to get over the queasy reality this film portrays. If you have a weak stomach, skipping this film is the best decision for you.

Raw introduces a lot of new aspiring actors and actresses — most noticeably the two most crucial actresses to this film, Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf. Together, they create an impressive display of the complicated relationship between sisters. Their platonic chemistry together is so realistic, an accurate portrayal of the ups and downs of a typical blood relationship. Rumpf’s character, Alexia, radiates confidence and certainty, taking on the role of the protective older sister who seemingly has her life figured out. She represents Marillier’s character Justine’s inspiration and most trusted companion, even through the hardships. Justine is the complete opposite of her older counterpart, a young woman only just now discovering what life can be for her. Their familiar bond keeps them entwined together strong through carnivorous extremes, drunken escapades, and brutal murders — unshaken through it all. For aspiring actresses, their performance as human-craving freaks who only have each other is absolutely phenomenal. You will be entranced in their enactments, a performance so unitedly, well, raw. 

It’s ominous and it’s gruesome, but Raw is so incredibly enlightening. This film understands the reality of young adults entering the world for the first time and demonstrates how impactful newfound experiences and wisdom can be. It’s even a reminiscence to those who’ve matured from their own confusing self-identity journey. 

A bit sadistic, increasingly intimate, undeniably relatable. You will come out of this movie more self-aware of not only yourself but also of those closest to you. Raw is a leading example of empowerment for teens and young adults everywhere, so long as you can stomach the more rancid scenes this horror film displays. 

Raw is rated R. It is a foreign language film & has subtitles.

Kaitlyn Riley is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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