Telekenetics have Carrie.
Werewolves have Ginger Snaps.
Now cannibals have Raw.
Cannibalism in popular culture has a resurgence every decade or so. This dates all the way back to Robert Bloch’s Psycho, whose Norman Bates was based of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein. The ’80s brought us the Italian cannibal flicks Cannibal Holocaust, Eaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox and the ’90s gave us Silence of the Lambs. A film in which the villain was ranked #1 on the American Film Institute’s Best Villains of All Time List. (Norman Bates was #2).
History has shown that cannibalism is more than just a cultural taboo, but was necessary for survival. Leningrad. the Donner Party. Medicinal cannibalism was practiced in Europe (particularly Spain and Germany) for decades. The practice is all over the animal kingdom. It’s even in the Bible.
So what does Raw bring to the table? Well for one, it brings the coming of age genre into this subgenre of horror. That is not to say it isn’t derivative or explores new territory. Quite the contrary.
There is a form of chaos that slowly pervades this movie. It starts out as a ritual hazing. A rite of passage for new veterinarians at the school that Justine (Garance Marillier) has just started. Her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) lets her know up front that the first weeks are rough. After the first weeks of havoc being wreaked upon Christine, her sister ends up giving her a piece of meat that causes a rash on Christine’s body. She gradually develops an insatiable hunger for meat.
Beyond just being about that primal, animalistic hunger, Raw also focuses on a sexual hunger. One that gets even more complicated when you add a character that is gay. Narrative choices like this show a true artist at work in debut filmmaker Julia Ducournau. Like the past couple debut filmmakers to come out of the last two years, Robert Eggers (The Witch) and Jordan Peele (Get Out), Ducournau takes the already intriguing premise and adds layers to peel back on rewatch.
The violence in the film is something that it is already becoming infamous for. In an age where we have become overstimulated with excessive violence in the media and the ineffective gore that purported movie bloodbaths promise to deliver, it is relatively tame. What is truly effecting is not the excess but the restraint. The realism. Yes, there are things in this movie that are boundary pushing. Taboo breaking, even. Yet, what will get under the skin the most? A madman cutting an arm off or the infection that breaks out on your skin? Or the bitten lip?
For further information on the history of cannibalism, look no further than Bill Schutt’s “Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History”.