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Fantastic Fest 2016: “RAW” (Film Review)

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As a genre fan, you may have noticed a bit of a trend, recently. Each year, between all the midnight programming and genre festivals, the horror audience has tended to latch onto one film, championing it not just as the best of the year, but the best movie “since.” THE BABADOOK, IT FOLLOWS, THE WITCH, movies you hear about from everyone you know, everywhere you look. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc, rave about how such-and-such is this year’s surprise runaway hit that you can’t afford to miss. This writer can only hope that RAW becomes one such film, over the next year.

I hadn’t done an abundance of research on the films in the program, this year. Some I’d seen at other fests, some I’d heard of, some were complete mysteries to me. RAW was in the latter category. During its first screening at the fest, the timeslot conflicted with another film. I had a vague idea that it had something to do with cannibals. “I dig cannibals. I’ll make a note to see it later.”

Sometime between that initial showing and the screening a few days later, where I was finally able to see it, everyone in attendance lost their damn minds for RAW. It quickly moved from something of which I was vaguely aware to the top of this writer’s list. Everyone I spoke with lit up at the chance to share their love of the film with me. By the time I’d have a chance to see it, the buzz had already settled down to statements like “RAW is great, of course. I’m sure you know already.”

The hype had people selling it as disgusting, stomach-turning, and hard to watch. Allegedly someone fainted when it played at a previous festival. A person told me they almost threw up during the screening. I’m a fan of gory horror flicks, and consider myself to have a strong stomach. No movie’s ever made me sick, and the prospect of some fiction being that appalling was tantalizing. How disturbing could it be, really? Then it was finally my chance to find out, to answer that question. And the answer is… It’s not, really.

To a genre fan, and the sort of person I imagine is reading this review, there’s nothing in RAW that goes that far. It’s not likely to turn your stomach, and I’d be amazed if any of you puked. What this writer actually found was a profoundly affecting, deeply emotional coming-of-age story, and one of the most exciting directorial debuts in recent memory.

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Director Julia Ducournau brings us the story of a young girl who is starting her Freshman year at a veterinary school. Away from home for the first time, she struggles to fit into a college party atmosphere with a claustrophobic sense of peer pressure that makes “fitting in” feel like the only option. A lifelong vegetarian, she is forced to eat a rabbit liver as part of a hazing ritual by the upperclassmen. The meat awakens a hunger in her that escalates to sickening and dangerous places.

There are certainly some queasy visuals in the film, including some veterinary procedures, the realistic nature of which help to ground some of the more shocking bloodshed that comes later. Make no mistake, the visuals are effective. They are intense. But what got lost in the hype that I was hearing is the emotional core of the film. An emotional journey that is, to this writer, far more affecting.

It’s a movie about cannibalism, yes. But that is, ultimately, the window-dressing. It’s a story about trying to figure out who you are. It’s about discovering your sexuality. It’s about wanting desperately to fit in when the person you think you might be really, really doesn’t fit in. It’s a story about learning you may be irrevocably different, during a tremendously vulnerable time, when “different” feels like the worst thing you can be.

RAW walks a tightrope between grotesque and beautiful. Between splattery fun and heartbreaking honesty. The film is raw, in every sense. It is open, it is heartfelt, and despite being about cannibalism, it is immensely relatable for anyone who ever felt different growing up. For anyone who ever struggled to find themselves, or had trouble owning up to the weird fucked up things that make up who they are. RAW is a cannibal film with a sincere heart, and it’s a film this writer hopes will be talked about for a long while.

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About the author
Elijah Taylor
Elijah Taylor used to own a chain of video game stores in Denver, Colorado. Now he works with Laser Party, a poster printing collective, and travels the world, eating, fighting, and attending film festivals.
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