The French Film offers a unique presentation on a universal taboo
By: Brenton Mitchell
(Note: Article was written in May 2017)
When it comes to film, Europe has had a long history of producing an impressive quantity of interesting and innovative films. With their content as varied as their culture, European filmmakers routinely produce critically acclaimed features from relatively unknown sources.
Such is the case of “Raw,” written and directed by Julia Ducournau. The French film released on March 15, riding a wave of universal critical acclaim, it garnered at various top film festivals along the way.
The film follows Justine, a lifelong vegetarian, as she begins her enrollment at an esteemed veterinarian boarding school. A university ritual of eating raw rabbit kidney awakens an unbidden desire for raw flesh, leading her down an unforeseen and sinister path.
“Raw” is horror at its finest, crafted with great care to create a buildup of tension and intrigue from the opening frame.
Though the core concept of the film is cannibalism, Ducournau avoids grasping the low hanging fruit of incorporating excessive uses of gore. Every instance of blood and gruesomeness is used with carefully crafted purpose, creating situations that are wrought with tension and suspense.
The careful presentation is immensely relevant, as one of the film’s strongest aspects is its unpredictability.
“Raw” is centered around the significantly small main cast of Justine, her roommate Adrien and sister Alexia. The small casting puts primary focus on Justine’s development over the course of the film, especially her ever-shifting relationship with her sister.
The importance of these relationships provides the most important factor of any horror film: the human element. The portion that is both relatable and realistic, that grounds fiction with reality, elevates the content by acting as a bridge between the horror on screen and the audience themselves.
Stripped of its cannibalistic content and presentation, “Raw” is at its core a coming of age story about a girl’s growth into womanhood, both physically and emotionally. Though the circumstances of this growth are decidedly unusual, the overreaching effect is clearly displayed throughout.
Ducournau does an incredible job of crafting an exceptionally beautiful film, a level of cinematography that gives every frame a presence and beauty that also manages to be relevant to the film as a whole.
There are numerous uses of steady, long wide angle shots allowing actions to move through the frame with distinct freedom. The locations themselves are beautiful, with scenes shot in Italy and Belgium as well as its native France.
These scenic expansive shots contrast with hectic and near claustrophobic party scenes. Color and vibrancy transitioning into bleakness, often mirroring the internal feelings of Justine herself.
Ducournau uses music sparingly, often leaving the natural sounds of the scene to present themselves. This decision works well to increase the immersion of the scenes, amplifying the presence and serenity of the aforementioned scenic shots as well as solidifying the wildness of the party scenes by using the music to drown out the rest of the sound on screen.
The careful use of music works excellently to create more importance during scenes, whereas the score is used to enhance the desired feeling of a scene. “Suspense” music is used sparingly, thus creating instances of true feelings of anxiety and expectation. The steady increase of the score building up to a pivotal moment in the film puts audiences on the edge of their seat, and every use thereafter quickly brings them back there as they understand the importance of that sound.
The quality of the acting is also superb, the cast being extremely realistic and relatable even with their various extremes. There is a noticeable amount of grit to the various portrayals, a rawness that comes forth as genuine and works wonders for increasing the level of immersion within the film.
“Raw” is an experience, well worthy of all the praise it has received. An interesting presentation of an unusual premise, the film is a joy of an experience for anyone who loves to take a bite out of a good film.