Raw (2017)

Viewed March 19th

After a vegetarian veterinary student is forced to eat meat during a hazing ritual, she develops an obsessive desire for flesh.

For many working filmmakers, there's an anxiety about the medium's future; or at least about the the future of "the movie." One way to address that anxiety is to provide viewers with a forceful, full-body cinematic experience otherwise inaccessible via television or internet memes. The French have been among the most adventurous in exploring this route, particularly in the "New French Extremity" films that popped up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as exemplified by titles like Trouble Every Day, Irreversible, and Twenty-Nine Palms. What was notable about these films was that they offered a moral/philosophical approach to violence that contrasts with the "torture porn" genre, as exemplified by films like Saw, Hostel, and A Serbian Film. The New French Extremity films were violent, yes, but through their minimal plots and artsy long-take master shots, they cued viewers to read them as commentaries on violence while at the same time giving people the sort of full-body cinematic thrills mentioned above.

Raw feels as though it is in dialogue with New French Extremity, but in a less intentionally austere form--there's more overlap with Hollywood teen films and a more traditional approach to shooting scenes. Indeed, the main idea of the film is to function as the logical culmination of the teen vampire genre whose most notable representative is, of course, the Twilight series. Raw presents a young girl's emotional coming of age through the prism of the vampire metaphor, but also deconstructs the metaphor, leaving it in its most unromantic form--as straight cannibalism. This mixture of Euro art house realism with Hollywood teen angst fantasy produces an engaging scenario with some memorable scenes and images but also a sense that it should have perhaps gone more in one direction or the other--be more that sober hardcore moralism of, say, Bruno Dumont or, if you're going to be a coming of age story, give the protagonist more to chew on, so to speak. Compared to, say, last year's young girl coming of age film The Edge of Seventeen or the recent French-Turkish film Mustangs, you never really feel like there's a whole lot at stake with this character. Part of that might have to do with the fact that the world she exists in is a surrealist version of a veterinary school. The world of the film might have been more absorbing if the way it drew you in was a little simpler, that is, if everything was played straight and the only weird thing was her growing thirst for flesh.