Halloween Review: Raw

This Halloween, while franchise-fueled horror sequels like Jigsaw and optimistic slashers like Happy Death Day race to the top of the box-office for the holiday, I opted to stay home and venture into an unexpected horror effort that's been chewing at the back of my brain for some time now. With French director Julia Ducournau's Raw delivering an exceptional coming-of-age feature set against a horrific backdrop of cannibalism, I was instantly met with one of the most disturbing yet masterful horror films of the year. Flourished by a wonderfully unsettling premise and a powerful female-led performance, Raw traded unattractive jumpscares for a fascinating leap into the unhinged mind of a teenage cannibal.

Beginning her first week at veterinary school, strict vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier) quickly falls into an entrancing yet merciless new world within the confines of the institution. Desperate to fit in, pressured by her older sister (Ella Rumpf) to join the ranks of the other students, Justine forces herself to consume raw meat for the first time as proper induction into the school. Escalating into what would become an unrelenting hunger for more, beyond the simple allure of animal flesh, Justine soon discovers the horrific consequences as she struggles to accept her primal desires. 

Ever since its limited release in the United States back in March of this year, the disturbing horror film known as Raw (Grave in French) that once made grown men faint has provoked my interest with its prestige horror quality and unsettling premise of unearthed human nature. While I never got the opportunity to catch the film in the theater, I finally witnessed its captivating allure one late night on Netflix. Settling in for what I had envisioned in my mind as a semi-traditional take on the coming-of-age genre, infused with bouts of subtle horror appeal, I never expected how unnerving the French-Belgian feature would be until I finally watched it for myself. Capturing the trials of a young woman tackling with her true identity, all set against a vicious underworld where bloodlust is an afterthought, Raw was unsettling from its first scene, but undeniably consuming in almost every scene after.

Much like the work of Yorgos Lanthimos, who presented a bleak dystopia with a whim of optimism in last year's The Lobster, Raw presented a somewhat normal premise from its onset, detailing the beginnings of a young woman's career in veterinary school. Backed up by her loving family, albeit a untrustworthy older sister, the young student we find in the wide-eyed Justine (played by French actress Garance Marillier) seems like your typical teenager. Of course, just as The Lobster presented a seemingly-ordinary dystopia that quickly dissolved into a hectic game of cat and mouse (or cat and lobster if you will), something undeniably cruel and disturbing lay at the heart of Raw. Almost immediately showcasing the absurd nature of the veterinary school, which sent its newest pledges into a cascading fever dream of loud parties and -- eventually -- blood-drenched picture days, we get a blaring glimpse at just what madness could unfold once young Justine gets settled.

While the slow-burning madness played out in the film, the feverish destruction of Marillier's innocence as Justine was undeniably a hallmark of the film. With the young actress channeling a new level of curiosity as she dove deeper into the film's premise, Marillier's deer-in-the-headlights facade ultimately evolved into one of bone-chilling confidence. Even as her hunger for flesh festered, pitting her against the ones she cares for the most, it was fascinating to watch Marillier dissolve into the backdrop of the vicious and claustrophobic world she was now becoming a part of. As for the rest of the cast, while the story mostly centered on Justine's own journey into self-awareness, the supporting roles of Justine's sister and her new friend Adrian, played by Ella Rumpf and Rabah Nait Oufella, were vital in uncovering the deep-seated desires within our main character.

Overall, while Raw might harbor an unsettling premise of a young girl tossed into the obsessive realm of cannibalism, Julia Ducournau's ambitious horror film is undoubtably a coming-of-age story I won't soon forget. Visually enthralling, its grim set pieces pulling you in, only to force you to shield your eyes at their most grotesque and nerve-wracking hidden moments, Raw presented another bold horror film that used its subtle, slow-building terror to deliver an erotic and symbolically rich thriller.

I gave Raw a 7 out of 10 for its disturbingly delightful image of teenage anxiety and the loss of innocence, its favorable cast that aided in flourishing the film's unsettling allure, and its bone-chilling atmospherics that promised a darker truth just waiting to be discovered. 


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