It doesn't happen often, but some nights when I am watching a movie, I can say with confidence that I had an experience that I never thought I'd have. An experience that I don't think I am going to shake for days, perhaps even weeks. An experience so visceral that I know I won't forget it anytime soon. "Raw," a French horror film, is one of those experiences.
Many horror fans claim that the country producing the best horror has been Japan. I can understand why someone would say that. They don't hold back, on gore or subject matter or, well, anything. I think France comes pretty close to the notorious attitude that Japan's horror output has created. There was a film that came out in 2003 called "In My Skin" and while I never saw it, because I don't know if you can actually track it down anywhere, its a movie about a woman's need to personally inflict pain upon herself. Its a movie that forced people to run out of the theater, it forced people to faint and it forced people to vomit. There are not many movies in the history of cinema that have that kind of impact upon people. The same things where said when "Raw" made its festival run, that people ran out of the theater, fainted and even vomited. Something like that, you kind of just have to see for yourself, right?
"Raw" is about a vegetarian named Justine (Garance Marillier) who is one her first year of veterinarian school. Her whole family are vegetarians and its the only diet she's ever known. On her first night of school, she is put through a rather brutal hazzing week, which tests her limits as a woman. One day, all of the freshman get animal blood and animal guts poured on them. Its on that day when something happens to Justine, something awakens deep inside her. A new kind of hunger she's never experienced in her life. Soon, she begins eating exotic dishes she's never tried before, like shwarma. Then she moves to raw meats. Then...she begins to want to eat fresh human organs.
Yes, the movie is very clear in what you are going to see, and it tests your sense of sight, your stomach and your sanity all in one horrifying one hour and thirty minute package. Its a terrible blend of body horror and psychological horror that works for every minute of its screentime. But, you have to be an adventurous horror fan if you are going to like this movie. This isn't a movie that focuses on the blood and the guts and the spectacle. It focuses on the mood, the atmosphere and the need to feed. There is a moment in the movie when a character's finger gets cut off by accident. Justine picks up the finger. She studies it for a minute or two. Then she sniffs it, considers it. Then slowly begins to lick it. Its a strange scene because it is forcing us to identify with a girl who is slowly turning into a cannibal. She begins licking and gnawing at the finger, slowly and surely. Its a disturbing scene, a disgusting scene, a scene that should never belong in any type of movie anywhere. It demonstrates just how far Justine is willing to go to satisfy the hunger she feels so badly.
The work done by Garance Marillier is simply incredible. She forces us to feel every bit of her deterioration. We are forced to understand why she likes this lifestyle and why she feels she has no other choice but to feed. For this reason alone, Marillier's performance is bigger than stellar. We as an audience get a personal view of how a girl slowly develops the need for raw meat. The entire cast is great, full of great French actors who created this very sick world of cannibalism. The movie has one of the most unexpected, apocalyptic endings of the year. The actor who plays Marillier's father is Laurant Lucas. He is simply known as father, and his big reveal in the movie nearly made my heart hurt. He sells every moment of the the brief scene.
"Raw" is a test to horror fans. How much of something gross and gruesome can you handle? This will go around as one of those dare movies that you have to see to believe. Like "The Human Centipede" or "Cannibal Holocaust." For me? I had quite the time diving deep into this film, enjoying every filthy bit of it. I may not have fainted, or vomited or ran for safety. But I did enjoy the dark world that "Raw" offers. And you just might too.
FINAL GRADE: A