Raw can be described as “Rules of Attraction, except that the Attraction is Cannibalism”. The film contains hallmarks of all the college “horror” stories before it: It’s a tale of corruption, hazing, and submission to a brand new, soul-crushing norm that highlights how sexuality, hedonism, the need to belong to an exclusive group, and how your given circumstances can work against you are all used to unnerving effect in the campus context. But alongside this all-too-real tradition of coming-of-age films, Raw adds an element of true, outlandish horror: A female-centric cannibalism.
I name the affliction of cannibalism that the characters face in Raw as female-centric due to the affliction’s ties with the main characters’ relationships to their own femininity, as well as how their acting upon it serves as a response to the treatment of women in realistic experiences they go through. Raw is described as a feminist horror story, and the film succeeds in earning that moniker by plot alone.
Raw juxtaposes Justine’s descent into cannibalism with her ascent into modern womanhood, as prescribed by those around her, the most influential instigator of Justine’s decline being her sister Alexia. Alexia serves as both a beacon and a model for Justine to strive to be. Alexia is a headstrong, edgy survivor who knows how to have a good time and clever enough to get what she wants out of people. But from the start, Justine and her circumstances make it impossible for her to fit in on all accounts without (literally) ripping out a chunk of herself. And so she almost does, but her strongest differentiator from Alexia – her self-control – is what saves her from declining to the state of animalistic indulgence her model of cannibalistic behavior does at the film’s conclusion.
The film furthers its central metaphor by framing the plot around the hazing of Justine and her peers to fit into a heirarchy of unflinching, resourceful veterinarians-to-be. The unertaking of how a social imperative to become a supposedly practical & empathetic caretaker is implemented by way of trauma is a process familiar to med students and women alike. The cannibalistic metaphor also highlights how expressions of feminist behavior are often regarded by those opposed to it as “incisive” – constantly biting into parts of society that are unjust in order to highlight the injustice that calls for a change.
As its protagonist discovers she must at the end of the film, Raw similarly finds its own way of coping with the ambiguity and unjustified dichotomy at its core – and does so by reassuring its audience that while this demonstration of violence is over, resolution remains open and in what each viewer can imagine. One can only hope that Justine is able to break a cycle on the basis of the character and resolve she displays throughout the film, but as she can see from what her mother, sister, father, and the systems they’ve chosen to be part of can tell her, a woman can only make it so far in a man-eat-man world.