Movie Review: ‘RAW’ – bone-chilling horror perfection


Preston Barta // Editor

Rated R, 95 minutes.
Director: Julia Ducournau
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait OufellaLaurent Lucas and Joana Preiss

On the outskirts of horror is the cannibalism feature, a dark element consisting of some of the most depraved and sickening films you could possibly imagine. The kind of movie that’s on the top shelf of a video store, collecting dust.

It was a subgenre that was popular in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, which consisted of storylines involving teens venturing out into a foreign forest, only to find their group tortured and eaten by members of a cult or tribe.

At the time, it seemed like a pissing contest among filmmakers, seeing who could disturb audiences more — because nothing has you hungrier out of curiosity like a headline that reads “several walk-outs” and “people had to be taken to the hospital due to violent imagery.”

Julia Ducournau’s RAW received this treatment.

At the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, RAW saw several people fall ill during the Midnight Madness screening. Ambulances were called to the theater and a couple festivalgoers required attention from paramedics. The truth of the matter was it was a midnight movie, many had too much to drink and when “these” scenes came to light, they just couldn’t handle it.

For audiences at Fantastic Fest, it was a different story. The film screened in the late afternoon and had no walk-outs. While there are a few moments that turn your stomach (as you can see in trailer below), the cannibalistic nature of the film is much more subdued than those TIFF headlines made it out to be. Some expected this to be one of the goriest movies of all time. Ducournau can sure test your limitations, but she is also quick to bring you back down by following a scene with a burst of humor or relatable drama

Justine (Garance Marillier) and Alexia (Ella Rumpf) in RAW. Courtesy of Focus World.

Justine (Garance Marillier) and Alexia (Ella Rumpf) in RAW. Courtesy of Focus World.

Before we go much further, let’s give you a brief overview of the story: A young vegetarian named Justine (a knock-out Garance Marillier) heads off to college to study veterinary science — the same place her sister Alexia (an equally as great Ella Rumpf) attends. Justine is an optimistic person who has a firm belief in animal rights and what her body should ingest. So the thought of eating rabbit kidneys for a student initiation ritual doesn’t bode well for Justine. However, she participates out of peer pressure and acceptance.

What follows is a severe reaction that causes Justine to visit the local nurse, which then escalates to her craving meat, which then eventually arrives at human meat.

This is a more textured story than what we’ve seen come before from the genre. It’s completely original and manages to find a way to not only give fans of the genre the thrills they’re craving but crafting a smart, often poetic and emotionally rich narrative.

RAW concentrates on the arena of anxiety that college is. It’s a period where one finds out who he or she is and the kind of friends he or she is going to have. Anything could happen and experiences come rushing in at every corner. Justine experiments with drugs, sex and other activities that put her outside her comfort zone. It all flows organically and keeps you invested in where her journey will lead in her coming-of-age story.

Now for the part you most desire: So how crazy does it get?

It would be a disservice to reveal the specifics of the scenes, but it does get bloody as expected. However, as mentioned, the tone serves as a Pepto to keep your limitations at bay. It fries your nerves but simultaneously has you oddly sympathizing with the character. There is beauty in the film’s horror, and how it unfolds – even at its most frightening – is gratifying, as cannibalism becomes Justine’s own initiation into adolescence.

If you can stomach it (and you should), RAW reinvigorates the genre by effectively mixing terror with intelligent storytelling. Ducournau is a filmmaker to watch, as are the two lead performerances (who are powerful in their draining roles). It’s one of the year’s finest dishes.

RAW held its regional premiere at Fantastic Fest back in September 2016. It opens in New York and Los Angeles on March 10, and everywhere March 17.

Watch the Green Band trailer below:

Watch the Red Band trailer below:

RAW Official Channels







About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.