As the Lenten season hits the halfway mark, we are given the opportunity to reflect upon the decisions we’ve made and what we’ve given up. Per my normal sacrifice, I gave up meat, meaning no beef, pork, or poultry for 40 days. With a diet consisting of primarily grains and vegetables, it often becomes difficult to not think about giving into my body’s innate desire for proteins only animal-based products can fulfill. That being said, I thought about how wildly appropriate it would be to showcase a film about forbidden gluttony in this week’s edition of Fear Needs No Translation.
French director and writer, Julia Ducournau, dives head first into the horror industry with what may be considered one of the most warped and dark tales of the 21st century thus far. Prior to the release of Raw, her cinematic portfolio was almost nonexistent, being made up of a handful of writing jobs, as well as her short film, Junior. Her first feature length film isn’t the standard coming of age story. Drawing inspiration from both Dracula (1931) and Carrie (1976), Ducounrau has crafted a tale whose message is relatable while still catering to the horror aficionado.
Garance Marillier plays Justine, a young vegetarian and prodigious outcast, as she goes through the traditional week-long hazing of first-year veterinary students. Her mind is pushed to the limit as she and her class endure torturous embarrassment from the upperclassmen. After having been force-fed a raw rabbit kidney, she soon finds herself only becoming more intrigued by the idea of introducing meat into her diet. Exploring her carnivorous cravings, Justine passes the boundaries of man and beast, when human flesh is the only meat that quenches her appetite. She soon discovers this secret is not one easily hidden, as she begins to lose control of her life and is eventually publicly ridiculed. Taking on the challenge of uncovering other repressed emotions, like sexual desire and the struggle of self-identification, Ducournau has strung together a universal message with a twist so disturbing, you cannot help but continue watching.
On-screen chemistry is something that’s hard to come by in the cinematic industry. Fortunately, the combination of Marillier, Ella Rumpf (Alexia), and Rabah Nait Oufella (Adrien) comes out to be a work of dynamic artistry. Each actor is able to show the ups and downs of the different relationships we all experience in life, whether that be between siblings, roommates, or friends. Nary was there a moment that I didn’t feel as if I was simply watching the life of a couple of people. Justine and Alexia truly portrayed the relationship of estranged siblings. They had times where the sisters felt the sweetness of being reunited, but they kept a sense of sibling rivalry.
Adrien’s relationship with Justine showed the awkwardness that may arise when living with a college roommate you’ve never met prior. Upon meeting him, Justine was shocked to find that she had a male roommate when requesting a female one. Quickly revealing the fact that he’s gay, Adrien creates a complex relationship with Justine due to the fact that they’re very different from one another. Justine comes from a very sheltered and conservative upbringing, therefore, she has little to no experience with cultures other than her own. This is much like anybody’s first college roommate experience. Coming from a variety of different backgrounds, it’s hard to say whether or not each individual’s roommate experience will end up successful.
Raw revolutionizes the way the contemporary movie-goer views the blood-sucking monstrosities we call vampires. With the vampire craze of the 2000’s romanticizing this idea of a glittering protector, it’s refreshing to see vampirism taken to the other extreme of the spectrum. Though not outright using the orthodox definition of the creature in the film, Ducournau has utilized the same concept in a grotesque and realistic fashion.
Cannibalism in its own respect is a form of vampirism, and frankly it’s the most realistic interpretation. The act of cannibalism isn’t anything new to the world, as it has been practiced since the beginning of man. From the ritualistic practices of the Fore tribesmen, to the survival tactics of the passengers on Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, the sick reality of the matter is cannibalism is more common than we typically think. The fear behind cannibalism is quite ingenious because it puts the monsters from classic horror into a real-life setting.
Ducournau’s influence from horror films prior to Raw’s release is quite evident; the obvious inspirations being Dracula and Carrie. Dracula follows the classic story of a vampire terrorizing the Transylvanian countryside. One of the most iconic monsters of all time, it’s no surprise that Ducournau found a way to incorporate such a celebrated film into her own. The blood-sucking in Raw points to the most intertextuality with Dracula for the simple reason that that’s how the vampire drain the life from his victims. Likewise, Justine consumes the life essence of her victims. The transformation of life to death in her wild eats is not the only one, seeing as she takes on the metamorphosis of human to monster — as seen in many vampiric lore.
Carrie is also heavily referenced in this film. Carrie follows the story of an outcast girl bearing the titular name who is heavily bullied because of her mother’s reputation as well as her own social awkwardness. It is eventually revealed to the audience that Carrie has supernatural powers, upon which she uses to terrorize her fellow classmates. Justine and Carrie have much in common; both are losers with a certain set of skills that turns them into a monster.
The most intertextual piece that connects the two famed killers is during Justine’s class picture where the upperclassmen dump a vat of blood onto the freshman. This is a direct homage to Carrie when the lead is crowned Prom Queen and has pig blood dumped on her. Both main characters are ridiculed by their peers due to their lack of common ground with the class. I believe this to be the community’s way of creating a monster. It isn’t until after each girl has the blood covering her like a mask that she goes mad — a common theme seen among other horror films including Texas Chainsaw Massacre and House of the Devil. Raw finds a way to incorporate such a standard physicality to designate the freak.
It is amongst one of many of man’s innate desires to be accepted amongst our peers. As a result, we will do many things to be in the in-crowd. Hazing has become the common practice for weeding out those unworthy of being part of the in-crowd. Raw centers most of its ideals around this concept. Justine, as well as her fellow classmates, endure this torture for a week simply because they want to feel accepted. In the end, hazing changes people drastically, and it has many dangerous consequences in most cases. The practice of hazing is seen amongst many Greek life organizations around the country, though many wish not to speak of it.
One of the most famous occurrences to land in the judicial system is DeVercelly v. Rider University. This lawsuit came as a result of the death of 18-year-old student, Gary DeVercelly after having been found with a blood alcohol level of .426, nearly 40 times the legal limit. DeVercelly’s parents took this court, suing both the university and members of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity. Though the case ended up being settled outside the courtroom, Rider University now has many sanctions placed upon their Greek Life organizations, including alcohol prohibition, and other policies to keep students safe. Hazing still continues around the nation, covered up by the façade of brotherhood. Ducournau uses Raw in a dazzling way to uncover this falsehood.
In many horror films, the audience is introduced to a well-endowed female side character simply there as eye candy. Raw plays upon this stereotype with Adrien; he comes to the attention of Justine, and becomes this forbidden fruit. His homosexual nature becomes an obstacle for her, seeing as there is no attraction to her. This sexual awakening is something iconic of any coming of age story, and Ducournau utilizes the concept in such an original mode. Justine never really experiences this sensation of sexual longing prior to attending the university. As is any coming of age story, this awakening deteriorates the protagonist to the point of breaking. In her case, she begins to express her desire in a very carnivorous way.
Raw is a very original film with ideas drawn from other horror films prior. Not to say I believe it to be lackluster, but the film itself felt to be many movies I’ve seen before strung together. The idea of a cannibal as the protagonist, however, was an extremely redeeming quality of the piece. It created a villain that was also a victim, and ultimately worked quite well. Through many twists and turns, including an ending the viewer won’t see coming, Ducournau becomes a visionary of the horror genre in just her first feature. I look forward to seeing where she plans on going with her work, and see much potential for those fore coming.
Until next time, stay scared my friends. Fortes, signing off.
— Justin Fortes, Film Blogger
Do you have a recommendation for a film you’d like to see on Fear Needs No Translation? Contact Justin at FearNNT@gmail.com