*WARNING: THIS PIECE CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS*
It’s impossible to talk about horror without talking about women’s integral role within the genre. From Psycho to Carrie to It Follows, horror is dependent on storylines that focus on women and their sexuality. Horror is obsessed with the themes of female sexuality and how a young woman comes into her own, and that sexuality often becomes the catalyst for disastrous circumstances.
So it’s interesting that these women-centric stories are so rarely told by women. In the top 250 grossing films of 2016, women represented 7 percent of film directors and 13 percent of film writers. In the same year, women made up 12 percent of total jobs in horror films.
Enter Raw—a fresh, sexy cannibal film from first time director Julia Ducournau. Raw follows Justine, a devout vegetarian, through her first week at veterinary school. Due to an intense hazing process involving degrading chants and being drenched in blood, Justine is forced to eat rabbit kidneys—unlocking an insatiable hunger for flesh within her.
Justine’s newfound cannibalism coincides with her budding sexuality. Before the incident, she was a quiet, self-described “average” virgin. But after, Justine’s sex drive skyrockets with her hunger. These two parts of her are intrinsically linked: when she makes out with a boy in a dorm bathroom, she can’t help but bite some of his lip off. At a college party, she perches on a countertop, preying on potential meals in the same way one would look for someone to have sex with.
But while Justine’s sexuality plays a major role in the film, it’s how it’s filmed that makes an impact. She isn’t objectified, rather, she is the one who calls the shots thanks to her aggressive, primal sexuality.
Laura Mulvey identified the theory of the male gaze in film which states that women are the objects of desire—the ones who are looked at—while the men are the ones who desire—or look. Because most horror films are directed by men, it comes as no surprise that women’s sexual narratives are viewed through a male-centric lens, often at the expense of women’s physical autonomy.
Raw is refreshing because it looks at Justine’s sexuality complexly. It is both powerful and hard to look at. And Ducournau is able to showcase this duality through a female lens without sacrificing the tropes that make horror so inventive. One of the most fascinating examples of this is her fixation on her roommate Adrien. Even though Adrien is a gay man, he becomes the object of desire for both Justine and her older sister Alexia—resulting in a familial cat-and-mouse game.
Once Justine discovers her fascination with Adrien she watches him intensely, like a predator stalking its prey. In one scene she watches him play basketball—shots of her cold stare are complemented by close ups of his muscles and his crotch. She gets a nosebleed from watching and licks it off her face.
Afterwords, Justine gets in touch with her sexuality for the first time. At this point, she is aware of her hunger and is finally seeing herself as a sexual object of her own design. She puts on her sisters cocktail dress and dances to “Plus putes que toutes les putes” by ORTIES, a french rap song with lyrics like “seduction 101 / be a whore with decorum” and “blowjob queen / give him what he needs.” She moves towards the camera in a slow, sexy trance before she puts on lipstick and makes out with her reflection in the mirror.
After Justine’s escapades with the boy in the bathroom spread to the whole school, Adrien tries to pick her brain, asking if she “likes S&M s—t…or worse.” When she sleeps with him, she tells him it’s the latter—resulting in an aggressive sex scene that ends in her biting her own arm, the camera lingers as the blood rushes to her sheets and she settles in her macabre euphoria.
Raw disrupts the expectations set by horror films before it. As a young, impressionable woman, Justine is a classic horror lead, but she is given autonomy over her body and sexuality when others have not been so lucky. Her sexuality and her cannibalism are pivotal themes in the film, but instead of shying away from them or demonizing them—Raw lets its chaotic protagonist run wild with them, resulting in a unique addition to a genre that has to reinvent itself to survive.
by Cody Corrall
Cody Corrall is a visual journalist based in Chicago. They are currently studying journalism and media & cinema studies at DePaul University and serves as managing editor at 14 East Magazine. At any given time, they are probably writing about social activism, entertainment and queer theory. You can find them wandering the world wide web on Twitter, Instagram and Letterboxd.