Cannibalism is definitely a lady problem in Julia Ducournau’s Raw, but the film isn’t about the horror of female sexuality so much as the twisted results of shoving young women into a pressure cooker of experiences and expectations.
This is an excerpt of the essay which appears in the ebook Beyond Empowertainment: Feminist Horror and The Struggle for Female Agency. Get your copy of the ebook here.
Note: This essay contains spoilers.
This essay was originally published on October 10, 2016 as part of our Toronto International Film Festival Coverage.
Three people fainted during the North American premiere of Raw, writer-director Julia Ducournau’s cannibalistic coming-of-age story. Crisply shot and incredibly well-acted, Raw confidently straddles the boundary between gore-shock and psychological horror. Ducournau’s film centres on Justine (Garance Marillier), a young vegetarian who develops strange appetites after she’s forced to consume raw meat as part of a hazing ritual at veterinary school. Justine’s sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf), an older vet student, at first seems distant, but the two prove more alike than we can initially imagine. Together, both sisters embody a new kind of female body horror where carnal hunger isn’t contingent on sexual rapacity.Justine’s appetite for flesh is born in this crucible, where fleshly desires and humiliation are entwined as part of a group bonding ritual.Click To Tweet
Vet college, set in a coldly Brutalist concrete-block campus, is very nearly an adult-free zone. Justine’s parents (Joanna Preiss and Laurent Lucas) drop her off and then peel out of the parking lot, leaving her alone; the lone professor we meet mocks Justine and tells her he doesn’t like high achievers. We see relatively little of the academic life — there seem to be no rules here except whatever the senior students decide to impose on the frosh. It’s cold, anarchic, and completely cut off from reality. It may as well be another world.
Justine’s appetite for flesh is born in this crucible, where fleshly desires and humiliation are entwined as part of a group bonding ritual. Ducournau lingers on the humiliations imposed on Justine by the hazing, and the subtler pressures bearing down upon her. Justine is ordered to dress like a tart, and the frosh are made to crawl half-naked in the dark to a bacchanal they can’t leave. At one point, Justine is coated in blue paint and shoved into a washroom with a boy covered in yellow, and ordered not to emerge until they’re both green. (For the virginal Justine, this incident triggers desires that are more than sexual.) Outside of school, Alexia mocks Justine’s unshaven armpits and ungroomed bikini line, leading to one of the most darkly funny waxing scenes ever committed to film.
Want to read the rest of the interview? Order a copy of our ebook on feminist horror beyond empowertainment here.