by Jay Armstrong
Today marks my fifth time watching Raw. Drop what you are doing, call into work, close this article, and go see the film in the proper religious form it demands. There is a solid chance it will only remain in theaters for a couple of days so, seriously, stop waving around that stupid despondent millennial I’ll-get-to-it-when-I-get-to-it flag and prioritize the experience over just milling around with a growing list of future ways to fill the void of boredom. For this to be the initial feature from writer/director Julia Ducournau is mythical. Raw is equal with the best work of Hitchcock and Polanski, not the sort of shoulder-shrug meandering meh we add to our Netflix queue– it is art, it is beautiful, it is important. If you are a seeker of substance, if you care for value, you will regret not having seen this in its full religious glory. It is not over the top gory, it does not sacrifice style for the sake of shock value, it is an artistic bold masterpiece which will be timelessly championed long after our bodies are decomposing in the forgotten past. I stand behind every word.
The power of horror films has always been cornerstoned by the realization of, yes schlock in the lowest common denominator may be thrown in front of us perpetually, true to form the same as rock n roll bands–one mediocrity after the other– yet when done correctly the crème de la crème stand brilliantly above the touted greats of say even a Citizen Kane and Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Hepburn can still our hearts, Wells can magnetize us forward in our seats begging to see where he leads us, but the greats of horror capture our imagination by tapping into our crippling subtle unspoken fears which speak openly,vividly, to our own experience, all the while being the truest relevant social commentary to be found in the form of art. Take Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Comet, and Shivers as examples, all films whose budget should define them, whose acting should be seen as less than the less, though in watching not only are those factors disregarded, somehow the mediocrity works to its strength as a complete timestamped archetype representation of the fears, dreams, and motivations of the period in which the films were created. Oh how much more powerful an experience such as Raw is whose creation has been meticulously painted to form an ultimate vision. Horror films, and I use the term ‘horror’ lightly here, are not merely about a personal path of life, instead they bring boldly to surface social neurosis the all of the herd lay victim before, both by proxy and by cowardly choice. This is why comedies fail at carrying similar socially immersive relevance; it is impossible to be honest about the world we live in, to give a true voice to the human aspects of life, and have an overtly happy shine to it. This is why weaker minds are moths to flame about cardboard films with plastic ideas. Sorry y’all, Raw is angelically more important than Guardians of the Galaxy and Fast and the Furious, like what you like yet be fully aware that you care nothing for growth or honesty to flock to the later without appreciation for the more important outside other enough to partake in their sacriment of inflection. And if that makes you defensive or argumentatively fired up then you have a long hard walk ahead of you before ever seeing the light on the other side from the empty vapid nucleus you refuse to grow out of. Good luck I guess. In the real we find that happiness, the exultation of life, comes as an offshoot of muck and mire–comedies, romance, period pieces, all are suffocatingly dishonest about the aesthetics of our experience. This film not only speaks to the weight and fears of life, it goes even beyond to call into account our subjugations we use for escape, pulling the veil back on those releases to focus fully, finally, under the microscope our outlets to dissect them properly for the damage they too cause in an already tumultuous time of development.
As a male I’ve been accustomed to the portrayal of the male experience as though it is the one path which all genders walk. The recent shift in social awareness to not only acknowledge the mores of society but to call on the carpet the continued perpetuation of such male dominated condescendingly arrogant norms is the one notable offering our generation has brought about in society as of late. Raw gives us a glimpse into an experience I myself have unjustly judged for not having thought nearly enough on how the ‘other’ comes to make those decisions– at the end of the day we are all fuck ups, your mistakes, our mistakes, are unique to the individual, I have failed repeatedly to do anything more than feigning comprehension as to the why of a foreign gender I would have been better having not pretended to grasp understanding of before now (or even now for that matter). Ducournau has the unique disposition of having been born at a pivotal moment in history where the female experience of maturing has evolved to self-destructive heights without a proper voice to listen to towards what it all means and how universal yet ostracizing the experience is and chose to take to task a generation of confusion in the throws of adolescence. With a single film she whispers below all the chauvinistic dominating words so cripplingly important that all of existence hushes as she speaks. What we see over and over again is a world where the male ego breeds a forceful destruction on those around us; fall into the depths of your passions and desires without regard, leave a wake of burning bridges and destroyed ideals externally and internally if need be, and then draw strength from it. Be the life of the party, let it define you into something greater, ad infinitum. What we hardly ever see is what it is like to be eighteen and female, to be shaken violently out of the innocence of youth into adulthood while those around us say go along with it, this is the way, this is how you become the best you the future needs you to be, “you’ll thank us for it later,” ya-da-ya-da-ya-da. Raw is not just a female film for the record, the experience is more universal than gender specific, the approach certainly is born feminine but refuses to be confined by it, there is no judgement pushed in any direction, blame brings no acceptance for oneself so it finds itself rendered useless in the films context, we see an honest appraisal of reaction to the external world none of us chose to be in, we all are different cogs in the machine, this film deals with causalities without trying to paint anything other than ourselves as both perpetrators and as victims, in a similar vein as Repulsion and Brain Damage.
Most films are easy to talk around, this one is impossible. I badly want to speak to the metaphors, one in particular involving the main character Justine, played by Garance Marillier whose role is ideally crafted with skill on par with Elle Fanning in Neon Demon, where she is laying in bed with events happening to her while trying to hide away from it under her bed sheet– it is one of the most powerful statements to the experience of expectations and growth and the way we no longer have a safe place to console ourselves once shoved unapologetically into adulthood yet to say another word about it would destroy the experience, I fear I’ve said too much already. The characters in this film individually call for multiple paragraphs of discussion, an entire chapter could roll from my fingers on Rabah Nait Oufella who is the real star of the film with his character’s experience as a nineteen year old homosexual in modern collegiate society of hormones, confusion, and collective self-destruction but we must save that for later. If you see me out with a beer in hand know I’m waiting to trade words on this film for as long as you feel like standing beside me. Nothing is done in a lesser fashion in this film than any which came before it….if you loved A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, It Follows, Let The Right One In, Funny Games, and/or The Witch this film and Julia Ducournau are going to blow your mind.