‘Raw’ is great, and not what is expected

Grade: A+

Verdict: “Raw” is smart, impeccably crafted and occasionally gut-clenchingly gross. So basically, it’s easily my favorite movie of the year.

This film is one of those perfect movies I can’t help but gush about to anybody who likes anything at all. Period. If you like even one thing in this whole world, be it baseball or your cat or green smoothies, I want you to see this movie. Unless you’re prone to puking at the sight of blood or dead dogs, in which case at least consider maybe seeing it. Either way, Julia Ducournau has given us a functional coming-of-age/sexual exploration/family drama about cannibalism, which, I must say, is pretty fricken’ amazing.

The film follows lifelong vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier) in her first week of veterinary  school. It’s rush week, and Justine is forced by her upperclassman sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) to participate in a weird hazing ritual that includes swallowing a piece of rabbit kidney, which, naturally, leads her to develop a hunger for human flesh.

I went into this film expecting a straight up cannibal horror film, and was pleasantly surprised to find that “Raw” functions as a totally different kind of horror. Sure, you might squirm at seeing severed fingers and whatnot, but the horror here mostly comes from the terror of not understanding yourself, and where that can lead you. Ducournau focuses on Justine’s relationships with the people around her and her burgeoning understanding of her own self, and her cannibalism works as the vehicle for that understanding.

It’s really quite beautiful, and I think it’s useful to talk about that beauty when talking about the people-eating in “Raw.” Her cravings give us a particularly effective body-oriented entry into the workings of her mind and the problems she’s exploring in that “cusp of adulthood” way – sexuality, family history, the like – which transforms the cannibalism into something very human and resonant. It works perfectly in all the important ways, gripping us while also giving us the tools necessary to dig deep into “Raw”’s emotional concerns.

Mad props go to Ducournau, whose script and direction make clear just how deeply she cares about how characters work. It’s that emphasis on the people, on Justine trying to figure out her new body, her new self and on Alexia’s relationship to all of this, that makes “Raw” the delightful emotional ride it is.

And on top of all this, the gore is fricken’ excellent. Those with weak stomachs should avoid this film; though the people-eating is infrequent, it’s maddeningly gross without being over the top (which makes it even more sickening)! Truly the stuff of every gore-hound’s dreams. I loved it.

So as far as I’m concerned, “Raw” is a perfect movie and we are blessed to have it in our theaters right now. Go see it on the big screen. Your iPhone won’t do it justice.

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