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RAW Takes a Brutal Bite Out of Your Subconscious (Sundance Review)

RAW Takes a Brutal Bite Out of Your Subconscious (Sundance Review)

There’s a recurring bad dream I have, usually after I take allergy medication, which involves choking on hair in my mouth. I try to pull it out without triggering my gag reflex, and only succeed in violent hiccups, and more and more hair coming out of my mouth. The new Sundance movie Raw has an extended scene in which its troubled protagonist Justine (Garance Marillier) has basically the same thing happen, in a scene that goes on so long I had to avert my eyes–it’s way worse than the analogous moments in the Ring/Ringu movies.. For me, the movie had literally become the stuff of nightmares.

And that’s fitting, because the entire thing operates under a kind of nightmare logic that may make you ask a lot of “Why?” questions, only to be effectively met with the response that this is just what happens in this story. Is it logical? Is it realistic? Doesn’t matter, because it is disturbing and gross, and it operates under its own rules.

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Justine comes from a family of militant vegetarians–it may not originally have been her choice not to eat meat, ever, but it’s been ingrained into her. Perhaps naturally, she is also about to start veterinary school, just like her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf). But this is no ordinary veterinary school, as it also operates under its own rules of nightmare logic, with extreme hazing that includes kidnapping all freshman and destroying their possessions, degrading them by covering them in paint unexpectedly and forcing them to make out with strangers, and–most significantly–force-feeding them at least one gross preserved animal part (a rabbit’s kidney, in Justine’s case).

Under significant peer pressure, and in the face of Alexia flat-out lying about their vegetarian background, Justine does it, and later decides to try the good kind of meat in the form of an actual kebab. Meanwhile, because this is nightmare veterinarian school, director Julia Ducournau offers us a horror-show of images like skinned puppies in jars, dog vivisection, and student arms elbow-deep in cow anuses. Students debate whether animal lives are less important than those of people, but the comparison is about to be kicked up a major notch.

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In a hilariously graphic chain reaction of events, Justine manages to accidentally slice off half of one of Alexia’s fingers with scissors. She has no ice in the freezer to pack it in, but while she considers what to do next, her newfound love of meat overpowers her…and she eats it. This, of course, is only the beginning, as her craving for meat turns into a craving for specifically human meat. Not necessarily to kill anyone, but just to take a bite out of them, like Homer Simpson eating bits of his own donut head in that one “Treehouse of Horror” episode.

I don’t know if Ducournau is a vegetarian or not, but if she is it could very well be that her point is about society’s unhealthy addiction to meat being destructive to society overall. More universally, however, is the heightened reality of that first year of college in all its danger, exhilaration, and experimentation, as freedom from familial authority gives way to a clearer sense of how much more scary the larger world is when you’re unprotected by parents.

While Raw is gaining a reputation as movie that makes people faint or get sick because it’s so gross, I suspect it’s less the cannibalism that does that and more the animal parts and extended scenes of puking (in addition to the hair scene, Justine tries to loudly  induce regurgitation more than once). To what end, I’m less sure. The final scenes add some narrative heft, and yes, possibly set up a sequel and a larger mythology, For now, though, what we have is akin to a walk through a Halloween attraction: it’s atmospheric and full of nightmare visions, but you probably won’t emerge saying, “Wow, what a great story I just got told!”

3 burritos out of 5, which you won’t want to eat right after viewing.

Raw opens theatrically for non-Sundance attendees March 10th.

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Images: Focus World


Luke Y. Thompson is a meaty member of the L.A. Film Critics Association, and Nerdist’s Weekend Editor. He’s on Twitter @LYTrules.

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