Raw (2016)

*. Oh the curse of heightened expectations. When they are not met, do we blame the film or the hype?
*. But for the hype I might not have seen Raw. The glowing reviews, however, sucked me in. Mark Kermode called it the best film of 2017 and even placed it fifth on his list of his ten favourite films from the last ten years. That’s high praise from a guy who sees a lot of movies, and he wasn’t alone in dishing it out.
*. Such praise, however, is a double-edge sword. Because, while I thought Raw was a nice little movie, I didn’t think it was anything special. So instead of enjoying it I felt let down. But does that mean the critics were wrong?
*. In his initial review Kermode spoke of how Raw “manages to take an intimate tale of an identity crisis and somehow blend it with Cronenbergian body horror and humour and heartbreak.” I think this is fair, but is it enough to make Raw a great movie? Kermode mentions how it draws not just on Cronenberg but Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day (2001) and Jorge Grau’s We Are What We Are (2010; remade in 2013), though I think the more obvious influence was Ginger Snaps (2000). The two sisters in a coming-of-age tale mixing budding female sexuality with horror elements make Raw almost a replay of that film.
*. The coming-of-age angle is, I think, what the movie is about. It’s not really a horror film, and reports of people fainting at its premiere, and discussion of it as being an example of the new French Extreme are hard for me to credit. I don’t think the intent was to shock. But I also don’t see it as having much to say about the virtues of vegetarianism, or as a critique of veterinary medicine. I suppose it could be taken as saying something against freshmen hazing rituals, but I found the students here to be too young and imbecilic to be taken seriously.
*. Which leaves us with sex. It’s hard for me to shake the feeling that but for the feminist slant to the film it wouldn’t have received so much attention. It struck a chord with its message of dangerous female sexuality and empowerment. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but as I say, it’s nothing new. Even before Ginger Snaps (which had been nearly twenty years earlier) a film like The Hunger, or before that Daughters of Darkness, had played on the motif of the young woman being erotically inducted into the ways of the predatory female lifestyle.
*. First-time writer-director Julia Ducournau does a good job, but again I didn’t feel there was anything special going on. There are a number of long shots that I found self-consciously arty and inexpressive. The tease scene of Justine rolling around in bed with the shocking reveal of her rash was clever, but it’s nothing Eli Roth hadn’t already done. And I don’t think Cabin Fever made many “Year’s Best” lists.
*. The cultural references have been updated. Justine listens to raunchy rap on her iPod, gets a Brazilian wax from her sister (with disastrous consequences), and is shamed on social media. All very relevant, but, again, does it make Raw a great movie?
*. Justine’s dad is Laurent Lucas from In My Skin, Calvaire, and Alleluia, so you know something’s not on the level. By the time you’ve twigged to the fact that the penchant for cannibalism is some kind of genetic disposition you can guess the macabre joke at the end, but nevertheless it works pretty well. Still, it’s just a joke.
*. I definitely recommend it. Parts of it struck me as overdone (the score, for example), or utterly nonsensical (the technique the girls use to get victims), but the cast plays well and it has an interesting look. Just forget about the hype and enjoy a decent little horror movie.

4 thoughts on “Raw (2016)

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I don’t mind him. After listening to him for a while I have a sense where he’s coming from and one of the main things I look for in a critic is consistency. So that if they like or don’t like something I can adjust for it being the kind of thing they would or wouldn’t like. Kermode is basically a demotic critic, so he thinks The Exorcist is the greatest movie ever made and he goes into raptures over a movie like Inception, which I just thought looked neat. I can see where he’d like Raw, though I’m a bit surprised that he rated it as highly as he did.

      I’m not sure who I’d call a trustable voice today. There are a bunch of reviewers I enjoy reading because I think they write really well, but I don’t share their taste at all. It’s an interesting question, especially in these anti-critical times. Anyone you’d recommend?

      1. tensecondsfromnow

        Most critics are bound to the political alignment of their publication, or the owners of the publication. Their viewpoint is shaped by editors and advertisers. Run a big-name interview, run a positive review. To be honest, the independent views of WordPress users are more rewarding to read than the RT herd mentality of dying print hacks. Kermode is good on The Exorcist and associated films, but rarely has an incisive word for anything new; just the same old middle-aged spread. Film and cinema have changed; RT just doesn’t reflect the changing nature of reviews, and just functions as an aggregator for yesterday’s straw men.

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Those aggregators have really done their worst to ruin criticism. I hate the way they take hundreds or thousands of independent voices and just grind everything down to a hive-mind score that usually ends up in some kind of mushy middle. Then you have the new releases on IMDb that always come out of the gate with ratings that put them in the top 100 movies ever made. There are some good writers out there on the Internet, but seeing as those aren’t usually paying gigs they operate at a real disadvantage to what’s left of print and the bigger sites. Meanwhile, as you say, those mainstream sources are really shaped by the industry itself by way of advertising.

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