Raw (Ducournau, 2016)

After letting Raw sit with me for a while, I’ve come to admire it more than actually love it. The sound design here, especially during the hazing scenes (and subsequent rave) is top-notch, and the acting from Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf is stupendously committed. Add to that the eccentric soundtrack from Jim Williams and Julia Ducournau’s adept eye for framing her shots with a daring sense of flair, and I was onboard to love the shit out of this. Yet that didn’t quite happen. All the Cronenberg and New French Extremity tributes in the world aren’t going to hide a metaphoric sense of storytelling that is, at its core, rather unchallenging. Here we have a girl’s self-discovery of cannibalistic desires after she gets the first taste of meat in her life. The more she tries to contain her cravings, the more powerful they grow. Her initial disgust is manifested as ugly rashes on her body, and they only start disappearing when her insatiable appetite is whet. And so on. Add to this a bit of sibling rivalry and the startling revelation that the cannibalism is in the blood, and you get the picture. The sexual awakening of a woman when she tastes of the forbidden fruit that is fleshly desire and coming to terms with all that she has been denied in life.

The more I think about Raw, the more I think of Joachim Trier’s Thelma. The latter takes a very similar tack, charting its protagonist’s lesbian desires in tandem with her religious beliefs and her newfound psychic powers. Instead of sexuality and sci-fi devices, Raw examines carnality and sisterhood using body horror, but both are fundamentally about women growing into self-knowledge about their bodies, psychologies, and genetic predispositions. For me, though, Thelma takes more risks—with greater payoff—than Raw does, and as such it feels like the more exciting feature of the two. Raw feels just slightly undercooked (ugh, sorry). But hey, it’s still pretty good! And this one has the benefit of grossing you out in places, if you’re into that kind of thing.