Blood and guts are disgusting, not scary. Jump scares are startling, not scary. I’m very particular when it comes to horror films. Great gore effects and a well executed jump scare can be effective, but they’ve been so poorly overdone to the point where the effect has nearly been lost. Few horror filmmakers actually attempt to elevate the genre. However, there’s been a refreshing trend in horror films recently where the filmmakers tend to use the more horrific aspects as a backdrop to human drama. Human drama is instantly relatable, and when we see the lives of others fall apart, it makes us afraid of it happening to ourselves.

Raw follows Justine (Garance Marillier), a young woman who comes from a family of strict vegetarians. As she starts her freshman year at a veterinary college, she reconnects with her sophomore older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf). After a bizarre hazing ritual that involves eating a rabbit liver, Justine begins slowly losing her mind, as she develops an increasing craving for raw meat… and not just the animal kind.

While Raw is about a somebody becoming a cannibal, the story is really about a young woman coming to terms with herself and her family, learning to be who she truly is. The central relationship between the sisters is fantastic, with both actresses having natural chemistry with each other. Garance Marillier is mesmerizing in the lead role, initially very vulnerable and timid, but turning animalistic and terrified as she devolves into madness and can’t control her urges. She brings a lot of life and history to the character. Ella Rumpf brings the same amount of confidence to her role, but immediately coming off as cold and detached. This rekindling of their relationship, and the eventual decline, is the crux of the whole story.

To me, that’s what’s truly terrifying. Watching a young woman lose her mind, while her familial relationships and world crumbles around her, is stuff of true horror. That’s not me saying that the cannibalism aspect isn’t horrific either. A beautiful synthesizer score (another welcome comeback to the genre) blares through the speakers whenever the truly bizarre stuff happens, making you feel that much more uneased, but also a little bit fascinated. There’s a constant sense of intrigue, especially near the end as more screws in our lead’s head fall loose. While some of the plot and character elements felt a little unexplored, I love watching films where people lose their minds, and writer/director Julia Ducournau does a great job of putting us in the character’s mindset. We feel the increasing pressure of dealing with college, the despair in the failing relationship with her sister, and the release she feels when she gets to indulge in her sick pleasures. It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as Ducournau isn’t afraid to use comedy to cap off an intense scene to give us a little cathartic relief.

Raw continues to the trend of having films with horrifying concept on its surface, but when you look further beneath, the true horror is something that anybody can relate to. Everybody is afraid of going crazy. Everybody wants to fit in. Everybody wants to have a good relationship with their family. Sometimes we can’t have those things we want, until we indulge in who we truly are. Unfortunately for some, who they really are can result in disastrous consequences for everybody else. Sometimes it’s best to keep that monster at bay.


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