Have you ever noticed that cannibalism is a lot like burgeoning sexuality? Julia DuCournau has. That’s the basic theme of Raw (which DuCournau wrote and directed), in which college freshman Justine (Garance Marillier) leaves her parents’ nice, vegetarian home to join her older sister at a freewheeling veterinarian’s college (seriously). After an initiation ritual in which she chugs a raw rabbit kidney, she develops an insatiable (and more importantly embarrassing) meatlust, smuggling hamburger patties in her lab coat and gnawing raw chicken breast fresh from the mini fridge. Aw, jeez, mom, what’s wrong with me?
Justine’s lust for flesh is all tied up with her sexuality, see, and the girl who arrived at college a nerdy vegetarian virgin suddenly has all kinds of confusing new feelings she can’t control — “lust for flesh” becoming something of a double entendre. In the same way, DuCournau has essentially created a body horror based on body horror. One clue that this is supposed to be universal is when Justine leaves her dorm stall after an intense session of puking up raw meat to find a fellow freshman who heard her retching. Who tells Justine helpfully, “If you use two fingers it comes up faster.”
I enjoyed Raw‘s wit a lot more than I did its gross-out stunts, if I’m being honest. Not that the latter doesn’t have a clear purpose. DuCournau seems to want us to feel as squeamish watching her film as a young girl does about the prospect of leaving the nest — with all that that entails (namely, boys, plucking your eyebrows, waxing your vagina, etc.). In keeping with that philosophy, Raw rarely goes five minutes of screen time without trying to make us puke, whether from raw meat, dead animals, full body rashes, or various gore, usually accompanied by some teen flesh, just to make you feel extra weird about it all.