“Raw” challenges moral standards and stomachs

Photo courtesy of Wild Bunch Distribution.

During Raw‘s international premiere on Sept. 12, one TIFF volunteer and two audience members passed out from watching the gruesome terror that unfolded. Clearly, this film is not for weak stomachs.

Raw is a chilling tale on how a freshman in college becomes hungry for human flesh. This foreign horror film is the first feature by French writer-director Julia Ducournau and premiered at TIFF’s Midnight Madness.

Ducournau said she wanted to subvert moral standards by getting a repulsive reaction out of the audience.

Justine (Garance Marillier) is a shy 16-year-old girl who goes to veterinary college, following in the shadow of her dismissive older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf). Justine is subjected to humiliation and vicious hazing rituals. For instance, there is a mass Carrie-inspired pig blood scene poured all over the first-years.

As a strict vegetarian raised by her parents, Justine is faced with a moral dilemma to eat a raw rabbit liver as a part of her initiation ceremony. She hesitantly bites the meat after being pressured by Alexia. Immediately afterwards, Justine develops a horrible rash all over her body and is possessed with a craving for something more than chicken shawarma.

Once Justine tastes human flesh, she has a euphoric expression and must find a way to control her addiction. But the internal conflict of her mind and body is difficult to fight.

Marillier does a stellar job of projecting naiveté and growth in this coming-of-age storyline. Rumpf plays a dynamic character who is a bad influence, leading to her own tragic downfall.

A few blood-curdling scenes involve Justine eating a severed finger and pulling hair out of her mouth from fighting the cannibalistic urge. Nonetheless, the film metaphorically compares cannibalistic nature with college hazings because humans treat each other like animals. Despite the thriller genre, Ducournau adds sprinkles of light humour and intertwines them with the shock value of brutality, such as Justine’s bloodlust for her best friend.

Brilliant work was done by the visual and special effects department. All of the graphic elements looked authentic. Ducournau said during the question period that all of the human flesh was moulded with melted gummy bears.

Raw is a well-done horror film that doesn’t rely on a paranormal ghost or clichéd scenarios of the car never starting for sensational suspense. Justine is an overachieving veterinary student who can take care of herself. The sibling rivalry between Justine and Alexia is what sets off for a thrilling and unexpected plot twist. Seasoned horror fans may need to take a Gravol beforehand.

Raw was only screened during this year’s TIFF.