Raw (2016) was perhaps the best title for a movie as grotesque as what we just watched it class. The plot is quite simple. Justine, a lifelong vegan, is sent off to the same veterinary school her parents attended and met years before. On her first day in her new environment, she is forced to eat rabbit kidneys as part of an initiation for a fraternity, and she wakes up with a strange rash the next day and suddenly starts to crave meat.
And although Raw (or “grave” in its native French) didn’t exactly strike me in the way I would expect a film classified under the horror genre would, it was just as horrifying. Time and time again I found myself filled with a sense of dread as the film portrayed truly horrifying scenarios: a girl devouring parts of her sibling, or discovering her parents’ history of cannibalism, or waking up in a bed next to a rotting, half-eaten corpse. This was a horror that didn’t aim to scare per se. Instead, I felt it was big on shock value that owed itself to numerous plot twists throughout the film’s progression.
With all of these horror-esque elements though, there was also a clear theme of coming of age throughout the movie. Even just the bare premise makes this evident: a young girl going off to college and discovering herself. As Justine comes to grips with her cannibalistic tendencies, there is a lot of self-discovery that happens in the process. All things considered, it does read like a teenage girl going off to college to experience the world. There’s a lot of sex, drugs, and rock and roll involved here, and she comes out of these experiences a completely different person than when she started, no longer the shy, vegan girl she was when she entered.
As with all coming of age flicks, a lot of Justine’s internal struggle seemed to depend on the question of conforming to society’s expectation or staying herself. In the beginning for instance, you could see that she was not completely on board with what the fraternity group was all about. She seemed to be having no fun at their initiation party, nor did she seem to be willing to be “hazed” by eating a rabbit kidney at all. Garance Marillier does an excellent job at performing this internal struggle of Justine’s: one scene that particularly stuck out to me was when she ended up chewing into her own arm, presumably to avoid taking a bite out of her roommate in the middle of a sexual encounter. The tension in that moment became clear, and it was perhaps that point in the narrative that we began to see Justine slowly giving herself up to this new side of her.
And so it is perhaps the rawness behind Raw that makes it such a striking film. The coming of age element is not just an emotional or spiritual journey of self-discovery, although these are definitely part of it. Instead, the turmoil happens in her innermost being: the tension is quite palpable as we witness Justine fighting her most primal desires with every fiber of her being. Her cannibalistic side is a rabid animal: she is swept away by its current as it continues clawing away at her innocent, brainiac self, all she knew for the past few years of her life, building up into a terrifying crescendo. The violence that occurs inside of her heavily outweighs any of what happens on-screen.