Review: Raw (2016)
Disturbing and sexually-driven female cannibal thriller lives up to its name.
Posted on 2017-06-04 by CiaoCiao

When you really consider it, college is pretty terrifying. College forces us to leave the comfort of our family and throws us headfirst into a freedom we've never truly known. This freedom challenges us, puts our principles on the line, shows us the kind of person we truly are. Did we actually believe the morals we've followed all throughout our youth? Or were we simply obeying whatever mom and dad told us? Last year's French-Belgian independent horror movie Raw runs with this idea. Justine is a shy and frail girl who comes from a strict vegetarian household where both of her parents are veterinarians. Justine follows closely in her parent's footsteps, being a vegetarian and on path to become a veterinarian herself. Raw begins the day Justine is dropped off at her new vet school as a freshman. Unfortunately for Justine, the first week of this school is known as "rush week", where all the freshmen are ruthlessly hazed by the upperclassmen, forced into an assortment of cruel and unusual initiation rituals with the most notable one being the victim forced to devour a piece of raw meat. Justine's morals and sanity are put on the line as she attempts to follow the rituals or else risk being ostracized.

Raw is perhaps best known as "that movie that came out last year that made people throw up in the theater." Due to the news articles and other reviews surrounding this movie's cult status, many will probably assume it is some kind of gorn shlock, the kind of which Eli Roth likes to shit out annually. Undeniably, Raw is not for the faint of heart, but Raw goes well beyond the gorn of Hostel and Saw. Unlike those movies, which are simply torture for torture's sake, Raw uses its gorn elements symbolically to develop and explore its themes of peer pressure and loss of innocence. In fact, horror is not really the best genre to label Raw, it is more of a very dark drama with some horror elements.

The scenes of the hazing rituals almost mimic a number of stock horror scenes. Justine's older sister, Alex, who acts as one of her harassers, forces her to wander through the vet school's morgue, but the lighting and setup of the dead animal parts makes it seem like Justine is wandering through Frankenstein's laboratory. The upperclassmen dump some kind of blood all over the freshmen a la Carrie and in another scene, they force the freshmen to crawl like livestock through a dark hallway, but to the viewer, they look like a horde of zombies. These scenes being shot in such a way highlight just how truly horrifying hazing is. The cruel treatment of Justine is nauseating to the viewer, but take a bathroom break and regain your composure because the truly vomit-inducing moments are coming up next.

The real horror comes from Justine herself. The final ritual a part of the initiation is being forced to eat raw meat. Alex forces a raw rabbit kidney down Justine's throat, giving her her first taste of meat. The following day, Justine gets a mad craving for more meat and attempts to pocket a burger patty from the school's caf. But a simple burger patty is not enough to satisfy her insatiable hunger. Her craving for meat goes well beyond normal. Her body develops rashes all over and she slowly develops crack addict-like withdrawal symptoms. Her physical transformation makes you question what is happening to Justine and what twists await the viewer: Has breaking her vegetarian morals made her gone insane? Was the rabbit kidney simply contaminated and she fell victim to something similar to mad cow disease? Or perhaps Justine is some kind of monster—a monster who can only maintain their humanity by eating meat, but not just any kind of meat, but human flesh.

Justine's transition from the innocent, wholesome girl we see in the beginning to the psychopathic cannibal we will remember her as has a few bumps and could have definitely been handled better. There's not much notification to the viewer that eating raw meat has damaged Justine's psyche in some way. The movie basically skips from the ritual to Justine secretly eating the burger patty. A more extensive arc where she progressively craves meat—such as a scene of Justine mindlessly staring at meat through a deli window, second-guessing eating the burger, or having Justine simply realize fruits and vegetables just won't cut it anymore—would have benefited her characterization. Even when she does eat human meat for the first time, there isn't that much tension, she barely considers the circumstances. Despite the lack of impact Justine's transition has, the hazing has a lot of force behind it: you really do end up feeling for this poor girl who is getting constantly abused by student and teacher alike.

Those who were hoping for another Audition or Cabin Fever will likely be disappointed to find that the gross-out factor is a relatively small element of the movie, but boy does Raw get gross. I for one have a pretty strong stomache, and maybe it is because of my desensitized nature, but I really can't stand how overexaggerated people get in describing their reaction to these gorn movies ("like, dude, this is the most disgusting movie ever made!", "That movie made me go to the bathroom to throw up!"). To put it into perspective, Eli Roth has yet to make a scene I consider truly boundary-pushing. His movies never go far enough for me. If I want gorn, I better get gorn. I want to feel like I have to take a shower after I watch your movie. I won't exaggerate how Raw affected me, but it did indeed affect me to some extent, more so than other similar movies. I think the main reason that I find Raw pleasantly grosser and harder to handle than most gorn flicks is the fact that, where as Green Inferno is practically a comedy and Hostel is just exploitative, Raw handles its gorn rather realistically. We give Raw a seven out of ten.