When I saw the trailer for Raw on Facebook, I was initially thrilled. I knew I wanted to see it, but I thought I would probably miss it in theaters. Lucky for me, it was a foreign film, so I was able to find it on Netflix a few weeks ago. I added it and put it at number one.
I have to admit, at first I was underwhelmed. Justine is a very pretty girl, born into a strict vegetarian family. Other than this little note (an entire family of vegetarians), there is nothing truly remarkable about her or the start of the movie. She is about to start a veterinarian school that her sister already attends. Justine meets her roommate, Adrien, a gay student with no qualms about his sexuality. Soon they are both put through the schools hazing ritual for freshman, and wind up bonding. They are dragged out of their beds in the wee hours of the morning, separated, humiliated, their beds thrown out of the windows, and forced to submit the whims of the older students. In the end, they both survive their first night, and Justine meets up with her sister, Alexia and learns that her parents also attended the same school
The next day, Justine and Adrien pose for their class picture covered in blood dumped on them by the older students. As a final part of their days hazing, they are forced to eat a raw rabbit kidney. Justine objects, as she’s a vegetarian but her sister Alexia forces her saying that she can’t quit and she must prove herself to be like all the other students. Justine bites in. At first you think she’s just holding it in her mouth, but then she retches, and we realize she swallowed.
Unfortunately, thus begins Justine’s bad time at college. She is hazed by the older students, determined to be too smart for her own good by her teachers, and hated by the rest of the students in her class. On top of it all, she begins to have a severe reaction to either the animal blood that has been dumped on her or the rabbit kidney. She finds herself at the nurse, where she is prescribed a cream.
Over time Justine begins to find herself drawn to meat. At lunch she can’t help but eat it. She winds up going out with Adrien to a pitstop where they both indulge in meat pies. In the middle of the night, she finds herself eating raw meat out of her fridge. It seems to quell the feeling in her stomach, but she doesn’t share with anyone how badly she craves meat.
Justine manages to trudge through the rest of her week, and finally makes time to make up with her stoic, rebellious sister. They drink, swap stories and return to Alexia’s room. Once there, Justine discovers her sister has the same cream she was prescribed. She thinks it’s weird, but doesn’t ask, probably because her sister was a vegetarian prior to coming to school, so it almost makes sense that they both would have the same reaction. Things take a weird turn however when in the name of a little sisterly bonding, Alexia tries to give Justine a bikini wax. It goes as expected, and the wax becomes stuck and in the fracas, Alexia accidentally cuts off her finger. When she passes out from shock, Justine retrieves the finger and while waiting for the ambulance, takes a nibble of her sisters finger. Before she can stop herself, she’s pulled the flesh off of must of the finger. Alexia wakes up and finds her, eating her finger. There is no question about what is going on, and the two sisters just stare at each other.
Eventually Alexia gets to the hospital with her parents and her sister. The hospital can’t do much, but they patch her up and discharge her. When her mother asks if they reattached the finger, Alexia tells them her dog ate it before the paramedics arrived. When their parents return them to the university, we expect Alexia to ream her sister for eating her finger, or for how she had to cover for her with their parents. None of this happens. Instead, Alexia takes her sister to a deserted road near the school, where she causes a car accident. When she begins to feed on the brains on one of the injured passengers, Justine learns the horrible secret about her and her sister.
The rest of the film follows the tug of war between the two sisters. They both despise each other, Alexia because Justine won’t eat, and Justine because her sister chooses to eat. They act out their drama while centering on Justine’s roommate, Adrien, who she inexplicably has fallen in love with. Justine appears to be the more forgiving sister, and attempts to make up with her but is exposed when Alexia shows the entire school her secret. They get into a very public fight in front of all of their schoolmates, biting and ripping at each other. When two other students try to intervene, they unite and protect each other.
Back in Justine’s room, the sisters try to make up without actually saying anything, but the audience can tell Justine has had enough. She attempts to lock Alexia in her room to keep her there, but in the end decides against it. Justine, exhausted from her night, tries to spend the night with her gay boyfriend. When she awakes the next morning, she smiles and holds him near, only to discover he is dead. She panics, ripping the covers off, only to discover there is a huge piece of his thigh missing. She becomes hysterical, believing she is the cause of Adrien’s injuries. She gets even more upset that he didn’t defend himself against her, until she spots a wound in his back. At this point she realizes that they are not alone. Alexia is in the corner, covered in blood. At this point we think Justine is finally going to enact revenge, but again her sweet nature wins over. She cleans her sister up by dragging her into the shower and getting rid of every drop of blood.
At this point the film flashes forward. We find Justine and her parents visiting Alexia in jail. Its a bit sobering and she seems to have all of her prettiness and rebelliousness taken away behind the glass partition. She still seems a bit like Alexia though, even though she’s a bit hollow. The camera follows Justine back home with her parents, where her mother, still angry from their visit with Alexia, takes out her anger on Justine. After she leaves the room, Justine’s father tries to explain her mother’s reaction. It’s not her fault:
Le père: Your mum was tough at first. Kept saying I was her best friend at school. It drove me nuts! It’s not like she had a boyfriend. Just me. And then we had our first kiss. And I understood…
At this point, we remember Justine’s kiss with an unfortunate gentleman earlier in the film, and it all makes sense. As if to confirm the our suspicions (the audience and Justine’s), Justine’s father unbuttons his shirt and shows his heavily scared chest. We understand what Alexia has been trying to tell Justine all along. This isn’t just a secret between the girls; it’s a family secret.
I loved, loved, loved this film. I felt bad for not giving it my undivided attention at the beginning and for thinking that Justine’s quest for meat was not that interesting. I am so glad it went deeper than I was expecting. I thoroughly enjoyed peeling back the layers and discovering the truth at the same time Justine did.
Warning, it is a french film, and thank goodness there is no dubbing but instead subtitles. You have to pay attention to every little thing so I suggest not attempting to multitask.
I give it five out five stars for it’s originality.