At last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, an ambulance was called after some patrons (allegedly) passed out during a midnight screening of “Raw,” the new horror film from French writer-director Julia Ducournau.
Did that actually happen? That’s the story recounted by Vanity Fair’s movie reviewer, at any rate, and of course, VF is the national arbiter of all things pop-cultural.
Here’s a snippet from Vanity Fair’s review of the film: “A young girl undergoes a shocking and grotesque transformation from principled vegetarian to bloodthirsty cannibal in this flesh-focused (and some say surprisingly feminist) new film.”
Here’s the online review from Slate: “Raw is a breathtakingly depraved new movie. All it takes is one taste for Justine (actress Garance Marillier), a young veterinary student, to lose herself to a lust she’ll never overcome.”
And from CinemaBlend.com: “Raw is a film so intense that it's been described as ‘a deliciously fevered stew of nightmare fuel.’ Raw might end up being this year’s must-watch for horror fans who have a strong stomach.”
Other reviewers lauded it as “Gripping!” “Audacious!” “Fiercely original.”
Okay, from those brief descriptions alone, unless I’m up for flushing away two hours of my life that I’ll never get back, I’ll take a pass on what sounds exactly like every other chiller-thriller/hacker-slasher flick that’s been pumped out from a legion of directors with eyes on the box office.
But here’s why Raw is even more disturbing: Several of these oh-so-sophisticated reviewers are actually buying into the idea that cinematic depictions of human cannibalism just might be touching on a real phenomenon.
Yeah, and after soaking up the “Twilight” saga, I’m starting to believe that teen-age vampires actually are real and dangerous, despite their good looks and buffed-out bodies.
As Vanity Fair phrased it, “More than other cannibal movies, [Raw] makes a vegetarian case for meat as the gateway drug between ethical eating and amoral primalism.”
What?? A gateway drug? Are they serious?
“[Justine’s] desire is for meat — at least at first,” the VF reviewer continued. “A virginal vegetarian, our heroine washes down a rabbit kidney with a shot during a hazing ritual at her new school, and the raw flesh sends her on an innards-lined odyssey of carnivorous discovery, beginning with standard fare (raw chicken) and working up to finer delicacies (severed finger).”
No deeper meaning here.
This is about as preposterous as it gets, not that the plot lines for all slasher/hacker movies are any more plausible. Yet to allege that eating meat triggers some primal urge to go cannibal ignores human history, because in case the sophisticates at Vanity Fair and Slate and these other au courant publications flunked history class back in middle school, there was quite a large population that inhabited New York Los Angeles and every other American city’s location for tens of thousands of years who lived on red meat from a whole variety of animals, and there’s nary a scrap of evidence of any cannibalism whatsoever.
Yes, Raw is a cinematic fantasy, deliberately over-the-top bloody, as are all other movies in the genre. And that’s where it’s supposed to end — as a gross and gory fantasy.
There are no allegorical insights to be drawn, no allusions to “gateway drugs,” no parallels to be drawn between some made-up tale of a vegetarian who wolfs down a rabbit kidney and turns into a cannibal.
If there’s some truth to that transformation, then we might as well concede that immortal beings who sleep in coffins all day are roaming the streets at night biting people who then turn into blood-sucking, flying bats.
Same degree of credibility.
We’ll close this excursion into Fantasyland with the Vanity Fair’s attempt to inject “meaning” into what is merely another horror show appealing to our unending appetites for guilty pleasure:
“In the end, Raw is also strangely comforting. The changes young people go through, especially women, can be overwhelming,” the reviewer wrote. “Here’s something to show how you aren’t alone, and how it could even be far worse.”
Yeah, you could turn into a vampire instead of a cannibal.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.