Saturday, 23 December 2017

Movie Review: Raw (2017)



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The plot: Justine (Garance Marillier) is a lifelong vegetarian who has just started her schooling at a veterinarian college. However, during the hazing process, she is given her first taste of meat. As her stint at the college continues, she discovers that she has developed a real liking for flesh… and it’s not animals that she is hungry for.







Marillier is fantastic in this thing. The way she handles the transition from wide-eyed innocent into a truly self-empowered being is astounding to watch unfold, and it’s like every single movement she makes is meant to impart either reluctant vigour or absolute terror at her surroundings. Ella Rumpf as her sister basically exists as the completed example of what Justine goes through in the story, showing the kind of heightened understanding of the world that is common for older siblings in media but also an uncomfortable willingness to confront what the world and her own instincts require her to do. Bonus points for their scenes together, which might be the most in-tune depiction of a sibling relationship that I’ve yet to cover on this blog. Rabah Naït Oufella as Justin’s roommate is a very healthy showing of LGBT characters being normalized in fiction, and his scenes with Marillier make for some of the film’s most disturbing moments, something both of them pull off expertly. Joana Preiss as Justine and Alexa’s mother works out just fine, Laurent Lucas as their father helps bookend the film with some pretty intense ideas, and Jean-Louis Sbille as Justine’s college professor adds a lot to the film’s toying around with animalism and social food chains.

College has always had certain notions of personal freedom and independence attached to it. The first real experience of the world not filtered through the presence of parental figures, it always has hedonistic undertones to it when portrayed in fiction, cinema in particular. Sure enough, as Justine is brought into the collegiate fold, we get some very heavy depictions of that lifestyle. The crowded parties where the liquor flows like water, the inhibitions of the people involved melting away like so much dry ice smoke, that feeling that these people are being given a chance to tap into their own suppressions; it’s mesmerizing to witness. Right from the start, there’s an idea offered by the film about human desires and what systems are in place to suppress them, shown at the start with Justine’s family and their emphatic insistence on not eating meat. Humans often have restrictions placed on them by outside influences, being told there are certain things that people should not be doing. This can be either individual examples, like Justine’s vegetarian family, or it can be more collective, like the feeling that the “rookies” at the college are acting out same as any other teenager would when let off the leash. When you’re told for so long that certain things just aren’t ‘natural’, parts of the brain start to wonder why that is and fight against it, resulting in this kind of acting out.

But what is natural? As our understanding of human instinct and behaviour grows, there’s always a backlash against it, with certain groups of people decrying certain behaviours as not being in our nature. But what those statements tend to ignore is a matter of basic biology: Human beings are animals. We are only a few genetic markers away from being the kind of creatures kept in zoos, and specific parts of our biology are so similar to our own that we study them to get a better understanding of ourselves. It’s why biology classes usually involve dissecting either a sheep’s eye, a pig’s heart or possibly both at some point in the curriculum. And that similarity goes beyond the flesh, as we are also equipped with numerous instinctual responses to the world around us, most of which are made redundant by how human civilization has evolved over the last several millennia. Part of what makes this film as terrifying as it is, surprisingly, isn’t down to its use of gore. When this film came to my ‘local’ arthouse theatre, it came with an advertisement that everyone in the audience would get a free sick bag on arrival. Now, while nothing in this film is so graphic as to warrant that kind of gimmick, the idea that what we are seeing, all the unsettling imagery and heart-stopping revelations involved, is just a result of a person tapping into their natural instincts… yeah, that’s pretty damn scary.

Especially with how that disconnect between the human animal and any other kind of animal plays into the story. The choice to set the story at a veterinarian college was a definite sign that this film was going in the right direction, allowing the audience to see that disconnect first-hand. You spend long enough focusing on the literal guts of a creature and that’s all they end up looking like: Meat. This factors into the interactions between the humans as well, using that core notion of suppressing natural urges and tying it to recurring fears that human femininity is kept locked away for the same reasons. This is where all the seemingly disparate ideas of the film click into place. The feeling of liberation and self-actualization, the paradoxical way human beings treat the term ‘natural’, the inherent fear of what lies dormant in the human soul; it all gets boiled down to a parable about how letting humans be who they truly are is both advisable and highly dangerous.
 
Trying to restrain a person’s natural tendencies can lead to a doubling-back in force from those tendencies, resulting in something that echoes real humanity but is pushed so far to the point where we indeed become animals again. But at the same time, as said above, human civilization has evolved past the point of many human instinctual drives; unleashing those onto a world not designed for them can have disastrous consequences. The film doesn’t give any conclusive answers to this, and I won’t condescend to you by pretending that I have any to give either. But the way this film presents all of these ideas, it’s another situation like The Killing Of A Sacred Deer where I want to understand what is being said. It draws you in and doesn’t let you go until long after the credits stop rolling.

All in all, I could have completely missed the point of everything here. The film’s so tightly-compacted with ideas and subtext that I could be going about this in the completely wrong fashion. But quite frankly, when looking at a film this engrossing, I’d prefer to just let my mind wonder and ponder on its own. The acting is fantastic, the visuals are outright stunning, the atmosphere starts off on an incredibly tense note and only deepens from there, and the writing goes over so much of human primality in such a learned fashion that, even if some of its main intents flew over my head, I still have no doubt that this film has a distinct purpose. One that I am more than willing to open myself up to.

It ranks higher than John Wick: Chapter 2, as all the love I have for world-building still can’t measure up to how hypnotizing this film is. Again, I could be talking completely out of my ass during this whole review, but the way this film presents its ideas, it made me want to decode them; any film that gets me in that mode of thinking deserves all the praise I can give it. However, as intriguing as this is as a piece of film, its credibility as a horror film isn’t quite as strong as Get Out, a film that may dip into the silly at moments but then goes right back to the deep end at others in terms of putting one’s teeth on edge.

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