Justine leaves home for the first time to attend veterinary school in Paris, where her older sister Alex is already a student. We infer that she—a virgin and a vegetarian—has been raised strictly and that she has not experienced much of the world before heading off to school.
Once she arrives at school, she is shocked but intrigued by what she finds is to be her new life. Perhaps she’d object more, but things seemingly move too fast for her to do much but hang on and try to survive the wild ride.
First she discovers that the dorm mate she has been assigned is male (and gay—I don’t know if that makes it better or worse, and I’m not sure she does either). Then she is swept up in what turns out to be an extreme hazing culture at the school, more like you’d expect at the most primitive American fraternity than at a medical school. The coercion and humiliation of this culture, though, turns out to be more of a transition to a hyper-party atmosphere, with nonstop sex, drugs, and (very loud) rock and roll.
Most of this she goes along with pretty willingly—again seemingly too overwhelmed to really stop and think—with her sister Alex giving her however much of a nudge is necessary to get her to loosen up and go along with whatever elements she manifests some reluctance about. In the end, the sisters turn out wilder than any of their peers.
Raw is a horror movie. It doesn’t sound like it from my description so far, and that’s intentional on my part. Because, as I read it, the horror elements are symbolic. I think Raw is no more and no less than a story about how, for better or worse, it is not uncommon for a young person who has been sheltered their whole life to respond to her first taste of freedom with excess and irresponsibility, especially if she is not of very strong character and the environment is one of powerful peer pressure.
It just happens that in Raw, the “letting loose” isn’t about (only) sex, beer, pot, all-night parties, dancing, etc., but also includes cannibalism.
Raw strikes me as a higher class of filmmaking than your typical horror movie, given that this is a genre with more than its share of schlock. It’s not formulaic horror with a lot of overacting and ridiculous dialogue.
On the other hand, I can’t say I was ever all that into it. The degree to which I could admire it in the abstract was significantly higher than the degree to which I enjoyed watching it.
Some of the horror scenes are indeed quite effectively creepy. What’s interesting, though, is that those aren’t the elements that most unnerved me.
What generated the most (negative) emotion in me, and what stuck in my mind most after the film was over, were the hazing scenes.
Maybe in part that’s a function of fact versus fantasy. College girls (or med students or whatever) obsessed with finding people to eat is so clearly make believe that I don’t have as strong a visceral reaction to it as to a real world evil. Whereas fraternities and other groups that behave something like what is depicted in this movie is a phenomenon that’s very real and that I’ve despised for as long as I’ve been aware it existed.
I hate that kind of culture, because it pushes multiple of my buttons.
One, I’m an extremist when it comes to autonomy. I will not accept coercion, will never acknowledge that it’s justified. I don’t care if it’s well-motivated, I don’t care if what is being forced on me is something that even I eventually recognize is a good thing; the very fact that it’s being forced on me rules out my ever being glad my will was overridden by someone else’s.
Even for the most minor thing, I simply can’t tolerate it. I still remember, a long time ago, I was at a small gathering at a friend’s house for a meal. Food was being passed around. A dish was offered to me—a bowl of salad as I recall—and after hesitating I declined to take any. My friend immediately seized the bowl and placed some of the salad onto my plate with a vaguely disapproving look and tone of voice, like he was dealing with a child who needed to be paternalistically compelled to eat right.
I remember how infuriating I found that. I’m sure 99% of people would deem my reaction disproportionate—after all, he wasn’t trying to harm me, but just to “encourage” me rather strongly to at least try something he was sure I would like, and not to be the sort of anti-social buzzkill who doesn’t even know enough to accept all that is offered when you are a dinner guest. But not only did I of course not eat it, I came very, very close to throwing the plate of food in his face. Even if it had been the best salad in the world, and even if the only way for me to realize that had been for him to force it on me in that manner, I still would have vehemently opposed his doing what he did.
So when a bunch of marauding older students burst into the rooms of all the first year students in the middle of the night and drag them off with lots of triumphant hoots and hollers, to me it was completely irrelevant that the destination was some bacchanalia that the vast majority of the new students would enjoy. The coercion itself is an absolute deal breaker for me.
Two, I hate conformity and mob behavior. That’s what’s behind a lot of the hazing of fraternities and the military and such after all. It’s a way of pressuring people to adapt to the group, and to lose themselves in acting as part of a collective rather than as individuals.
How many people, as just individuals making up their own mind how to behave, would break into someone’s dorm room and kidnap them in order to frighten and humiliate them and later party with them? Thankfully none, or certainly very few. How many people will behave that way if it’s tradition, it’s part of a culture, lots of other members of their group past and present have behaved that way, and it’s expected of them? A hell of a lot more, because you can do all kinds of horrific shit and not feel individually responsible when you lose yourself in a mob.
So the hazing stuff, and the fact that there is widespread acceptance of it as a part of the school environment, including from the faculty and staff, is what I experienced as the greatest “horror” in this horror film. But as far as the cannibalism and such, yeah it’s well done, and it’s disturbing to a lesser but still significant degree. But maybe because I’m not that much of an aficionado of the genre, Raw to me is just OK. I’d rank it a bit below the middle of the movies I’ve written about so far.