Shallow Graves: Raw

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Helping you navigate through the wilderness of the horror genre.

Raw (2016)

Director: Julia Ducournau

Many of the horrors in Julia Ducournau’s angst ridden film are universal. They are anxieties that come for all of us once we’re stripped bare of the niceties of adolescence, and exposed to the cold unknowns of adulthood. It is a time in one’s life when we are consumed by uncertainty and the untamed expanses of wild youth, free to find who we really are, away from the sheltered safety of our parents. The journey of self discovery can be horrifying, but the destination, can be empowering. In the French director’s feature debut, the main character Justine (Garance Marillier) finds herself at the jumping off point of such a journey when she starts her first year at a prestigious veterinarian school.

Justine begins in the cold comfort of an overbearing mother and an icy father, cold, but a comfort nonetheless, for the veterinarian prodigy raised strictly vegetarian by her mother. From there, almost in a blink, she’s thrown into a hazing ritual that feels more like a hostage situation. This is where Ducournau’s, objective, non-judgmental camera starts to really shape the story. It puts you in the room, creating unpredictability. After the “rookie’s” dorm rooms are violently ransacked by the older students, they are forced into an elevator going down, into the bowels of the school. Like cattle, the young students are packed tightly in the small space; their eyes wide and fearful. Here is where Ducournau uses one of several long takes, keeping the camera focused on the young faces, letting the fear build into a crescendo in the form of a stylish hormone crazed rave. It’s a sudden and jolting release of tension, but the anxiety is still heavy in the writhing and heaving of the wild young ravers. The rave feels threatening and uneasy.

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Everything and everyone is hostile for Justine at the gloomy school that feels more like a prison camp, including her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf) who is a year ahead. She pushes Justine onto her journey of self discovery, by forcing her sister to eat a piece of rabbit kidney during the hazing. From there the surrealism of Justine’s mad discovery of truth is heightened with every unquenchable craving for meat.

Surrealism, yes, but even dream sequences are cold and dispassionate, we are only there to observe, and follow Justine on her journey. This twisting path leads her through plenty of dark places, many of which are familiar for such a voyage, but they are colored with an absurd, horrific curiosity. Whether it be a ravenous lust for her roommate, the only person who isn’t, more often than not, hostile towards her, or some grotesque physical awkwardness, it all plays out in a clinical display of body horror and sly commentary, that isn’t always easy to watch, at times, even Justine will look directly at the camera, almost waiting for you to blink.

In the end we see Justine is not a victim, she has found certainty and solace in who she is, and is better for it. How that affects the world around her is unimportant, it was Justine’s journey from beginning to end and any sleepless nights of the observers is of no consequence.

See also:

Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2001)

Ginger Snaps (John Fawcett, 2000)

James Merolla

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