Raw (Grave) (2016) Movie Review – 31 Days of Halloween
In Justine’s family everyone is a vet and a vegetarian. At 16, she’s a gifted teen ready to take on her first year in vet school, where her older sister also studies. There, she gets no time to settle: hazing starts right away. Justine is forced to eat raw meat for the first time in her life. Unexpected consequences emerge as her true self begins to form.
Welcome to Knockout Horror. Continuing with our K-O-ween 31 Days of Halloween feature, for day 20 we are checking out French and Belgian horror collaboration Raw from 2016. A big part of me isn’t quite sure why I decided to include this movie. I wanted to feature something that critics and the public love but I wasn’t overly keen on. Now I feel like I have just backed myself into a corner a little.
I mean, I first watched this movie a few years back due to a lot of the fuss people were making about it. And while I enjoyed some of the body horror elements, the movie really didn’t grab me. I wasn’t seeing what everyone else was seeing. So I guess I should kick off this review by talking a little bit about why it didn’t grab me.
Coming of Age Horror
Raw follows the story of a 16 year old aspiring vet called Justine (Garance Marillier). Justine comes from a family of vets and and was something of a standout in high school. Wanting to follow in her parents footsteps, she heads off to the veterinary school that her parents went to and begins her studies. After partaking in a school hazing ritual that forced the typically vegetarian Justine to consume a Rabbit’s kidney. Justine begins experiencing desires for a different type of meat. One that is entirely more forbidden.
At its heart, Raw is a coming of age tale with a somewhat grizzly underbelly. The French love their coming of age movies and it’s no surprise to see that bleeding over into horror. But the only thing actually making Raw a horror movie in the first place is a very small part of its subject matter. It is one of those movies that has earned a reputation for being difficult to stomach. A movie that a viewer should approach with no small amount of caution and that sort of oversells the horror aspect in a big way. At its core, this is a movie about a teenage girl moving into adulthood. Complete with all the animal instincts, uncertainty and insecurity that comes along with that.
Not Really My Thing
So you may see people refer to the movie as horrifying or stomach churning. But that is only a very small part of it. This is a movie that dips a toe into the horror pool before venturing back out into fairly standard coming of age fare. And that is where the movie fails to resonate with me. In a lot of ways, Raw simply feels like every other coming of age story I have ever had the misfortune of witnessing. And I don’t say that to knock these types of movies. I say it purely because it is a genre that I have no interest in. Yet I find myself having watched a bunch purely through thinly veiled “horror” tales.
2017’s Blue My Mind is another example, albeit one that is even more difficult to find the horror in. I ended up watching both of these movies in fairly quick succession and they both left me wondering why I sat through them. It is simply a subject that does not interest me. I have no desire to watch teens going through growing pains, having awkward social encounters, taking drugs and dancing to terrible European electronic music. It’s a topic that is done to death and I really don’t think there is much new to add to it. And to be perfectly honest, I ended up mixing these movies up when I attempt to recall them. They are all just so similar.
A Well Constructed Story
So we have got that out of the way. Raw is, predominantly, a coming of age story and that is something that doesn’t interest me. But I can see why people enjoy it. Women of all ages can likely relate to Justine’s story of social awkwardness and idealism in the face of a world keen to engage in debauchery and hedonism. And that’s a cool thing. The story here is pretty well done albeit extremely formulaic and overly familiar. If you have seen one coming of age movie you have seen them all, right? Justine is fairly likable and her progression from innocent naive girl to absolute raving lunatic is predictable but fairly engaging.
Raw’s tendency to portray things in such a blatant manner as to almost guide the viewer through the metaphors and meanings is somewhat unsatisfying. And Justine’s sexual, and animalistic, awakenings are easy to predict and fairly unremarkable. There are a number of scenes where sexual assault seems to be conflated with sexual positivity. And Justine’s experiences probably demand a trip to the police station rather than a high five from her black sheep sister.
Scenes focused on the ever partying members of the campus continually provoke eye rolls for how ridiculous they are. And the extremely old person in me always wants to know exactly who is going to clean up all that mess. Apparently nobody working at this school gives a monkey’s toss and the lunatics are running the asylum. Still, it’s a movie about cannibals so I suppose I should complain about that being unrealistic.
Effective Body Horror
So how does the horror hold up? Well, it’s barely there for one. I am really uncomfortable with the horror label for this movie and I am sure director Julia Ducournau probably is too. While I can definitely praise Raw for managing to make cannibalism at least somewhat interesting. It doesn’t do anything new. It’s the same old thing and much of that is down to how worn out this horror topic is. Characters desire human flesh, they start eating raw meat, they then want to eat humans etc etc. It’s always the same thing over and over again. And I think that’s where my issues with this movie lie. It combines two subjects that I have no real interest in.
Where it does do a brilliant job is in the body horror. Some of the scenes here are stomach churning and Garance Marillier deserves a bunch of praise for what she put herself through. I won’t spoil anything but pissing all over herself because, apparently, that was the easiest way to film that particular scene wasn’t the most difficult thing she had to do here. Raw hits on every one of its body horror scenes and that is something that I really do like about the movie. It’s legitimately effective and the effects department deserves bags of praise. Ducournau does have a tendency to linger on some of the shots. Eager to get the point across with regards to how uncomfortable or affected you are supposed to feel. But it’s a minor complaint really.
Why Am I Recommending the Movie?
That’s the big question, right? I mean, I have moaned a lot so it seems a bit weird to go ahead and feature this in my 31 Days of Halloween list. Being honest, I thought I would feel a bit different about the movie on a second watch. I thought I would enjoy it a bit more but I just didn’t. It almost felt as if I had only watched it for the first time a few days ago. Everything was so familiar and I felt exactly the same way on a rewatch as I did the first time. The partying scenes made me cringe for how awkward they were. I found the coming of age stuff boring and I really enjoyed the body horror stuff.
The reason I am recommending Raw is because I can see that it is a good movie. It does a lot right and the coming of age stuff will probably appeal to a lot of people. For me, it’s just another metaphor heavy movie dressed up in a horror outfit. But for people who don’t only watch horror, it probably feels quite a bit deeper than that. They will probably really enjoy the metaphors and be suitably disgusted at the horror stuff. If you only occasionally dip your feet into this genre, Raw is a great example of mature, metaphorical horror. If, like me, you have seen entirely too much of this stuff. It’s just another one on the pile. Occasionally great, often formulaic and a bit boring.