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‘Raw’ Is a Gutturally Grotesque Companion Piece to ‘Titane’

In the wake of Julia Ducournau’s Cannes-winning film about banging a car, now is a perfect time to revisit her debut about a vegetarian turned cannibal

With more and more movie streaming services popping up, it can feel impossible to keep track of what’s showing where. So to help, this October I’ll be recommending a different film every day from one such service that embodies the spooky spirit of the season. From classic Halloween movies to indie horror to campy dark comedies, this is 31 Days of a Very Chingy Halloween.

Today I’m looking at Raw, Julia Ducournau’s cannibalistic feature debut, currently streaming on Netflix.

A car crashes. A young woman goes through a grotesque change as she experiences violent lust. Her own flesh is torn away, as she transforms into something new and frightening. She tries to hide her guttural urges, but they often betray her. She’s primarily steadied through this monstrous change by an equally unstable family member. Interspersed between all this are dance party scenes with impeccable needle drops, body horror giving way to situational comedy and oddly disquieting moments of familial tenderness. 

All that I just described could be seen as a synopsis of either of filmmaker Julia Ducournau’s films — this year’s much talked about Cannes’ grand prize winner Titane or her 2016 feature debut Raw. Whatever you think of Ducournau and her often sickness-inducing films, you can’t deny that she has a distinctive voice. 

In fact, in the wake of Titane’s success, Raw has become a potent companion piece. The story follows Justine (Garance Marillier), a young woman who gets into the same veterinary school her parents attended (and that her sister Alexia currently attends). During a hazing of the freshman class, Justine is forced to break her lifelong vegetarianism and eat meat; soon thereafter, she finds herself going through a violent metamorphosis where she can’t kick a sudden craving for flesh and begins to desire human meat as well.

Whether it’s a car-fucking leading to a titanium pregnancy or a vegetarian turning into a cannibal, Ducournau loves to put her leading ladies through a violent metamorphosis (which at this point is becoming its own well-worn horror trope), often making these situations almost too absurd-sounding to be believed. But she also sets her stories apart and grounds them with settings and imagery meant to evoke the discomfort their characters feel. In Raw, we’re treated to scenes of horses and dogs being bloodily splayed open, students licking each others’ eyeballs and underclassmen being forced to crawl along the floor like animals. When faced with all this and the near inhumane treatment by her upperclassmen, it’s not all that odd that Justine sees people as no different than animal meat.

One of the things Ducournau seems to be most drawn toward is depicting the experience of cis womanhood through barbarism and body horror. In Titane, we first see its protagonist kill when a male fan won’t let her leave a parking lot, while Raw featured a similar scene with Justine biting a boy’s lip off when locked in a bathroom with him and forced to kiss him. Ducournau also tends to blend her visceral grotesqueries with moments that are sexually charged, with Justine experiencing her first orgasm as she eats part of her arm.

Overall, Ducournau’s films are stomach-churning meditations on what it’s like to have a certain type of body, and “raw” is a pretty apt descriptor of it.

To see a list of each of the previous entries, check out the A Very Chingy Halloween list on Letterboxd.

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