Raw (2016) – Lessons on the Horror Hype Machine

I debated for a big chunk of time if I was even going to write this review, but I thought about it for a while and realized that not only did I have a lot to say about the film Raw, but that I had a bit of rant brewing in my chest as well.  Coinciding with the North American release of the film on DVD, I figured now was the best time.

For some backstory, we recently talked about Raw on the Drunk In A Graveyard podcast episode 22 entitled Rest in Pizza.  Thanks again to my buddy Kyle for hooking me up with an advanced copy of Raw to check out.  Rigby, Scotty, and myself did the only thing one should do when confronted with a French horror film that has a reputation for making movie goers vomit/pass out and otherwise reenact scenes from that one Masters of Horror episode “Cigarette Burns”.  (If you haven’t seen it, this joke makes no sense, but I really recommend it because it’s actually good and it has Norman Reedus in it and he looks especially greasy so thats a thing as well).

that’s the stuff

Raw is the directorial debut of Julia Ducournau, and tells both a coming of age and coming as cannibal story.  The film made the rounds on the festival circuit last year and quickly became much lauded and a bit of a darling/daring release.  If you google the film, you will quickly find many links that report the same thing – movie goers were vomiting/passing out/having to be hospitalized during the viewing of this film – this also lines up to that Masters of Horror episode I talked about earlier, so seriously go check it out.

Now, I love the concept of the hype machine.  Movies handing out vomit bags isn’t something new that is unique to Raw – the 1970s saw many films handing out vomit bags, vouchers for free funerals due to being scared to death etc.  The gimmick isn’t new, but it does work and this will round out to the rant I’ve got brewing about the horror hype machine and how I both love and hate it.

I love a gimmick.  It’s true.  I won’t even bother to lie about it.

My love for the band Ghost is based almost entirely off the gimmick of the whole thing (a gimmick which has recently been shattered but that’s another story for another time).  I would LOVE a promo vomit bag for Raw for my collection.  That would be so friggin cool.  Cue my disappointment when I found out the vomit bags being handed out at the cinemas playing RAW were actually just brown paper lunch bags. Lame.

However, I have this deep disconnect with the hype machine, because in many cases (and indeed with this one), it’s completely un-fucking warranted.  I have some suspicions as to the whys, and I’m going to lay this out for you, and I will include my thoughts on RAW, which I feel was ultimately damaged by this hype machine.

1. The hype machine is almost always created by “normies”.  And sadly for most of the most seasoned horror film buffs, we aren’t the normies.  We don’t shit ourselves over Paranormal Activity part 17, we don’t have to sleep with the lights on after Annabelle part 9:  The Annabelling.  We go to see these films and consume them just the same, but the consumption is based more on camp than the thought that we will be truly scared by these.  Rigby and I have mused on this phenomenon for a while, and it’s no large stretch to say that mainstream news sources, and higher end / larger names tend to control our media.  I might be able to give you a more logical or reasonable review of a horror film, because I am a horror geek, I’ve been writing about horror films for years, BUT, if something like Huffington Post gets ahold of it and reviews it, obviously their audience readership is going to reach farther than Drunk in a Graveyard’s, so unfortunately, this is going to power a lot of the hype.  And yes, I am 100% saying that almost all of the jackasses who write reviews of horror films for mainstream news sites have no business writing reviews for these films, because in truth, these films weren’t really made for these people, and here, I am going to call them “normies”.  Allow me to specify, before everyone gets butthurt and starts blogging about me being a dickhead –  I’m not saying people unfamiliar with the horror genre should not watch these films, what I am saying is that people not versed in this cinema should not critique the films.  I don’t know shit about fuck when it comes to say independent European arthouse epics – I have no business writing a poorly thought out review on one when it comes out.  Who do you want to listen to during a science lecture – the scientist defending a thesis or a baby smearing feces on their building blocks?  Probably the scientist, if only because, vis a vis, you’re at a science lecture, wanting to hear from someone within the same lexicon as yourself.  Do I need to know what XYZ bland white woman thinks about a French cannibal film?  No.  No, I don’t.  Because we don’t speak the same language.  And no, I’m not calling out Huffington Post or really anyone else, this is just sort of a stream of consciousness piece.  The majority of reviewers who create the early hype for horror films are these precise normies, who have no business defining the genre or speaking on its behalf.

2.  Second to this point, this hype is directly absorbed by major horror review sites, and unfortunately for many of the larger name sites, they’re looking to get views, get ad revenue, and maintain relevance, so of course they’re going to jump on a story (much like this one), and badly regurgitate it, while typing in all block caps about how XYZ film is THE SCARIEST FILM OF ALL TIME !!!!!!11111, or my personal favourite – “SCARIER THAN THE EXORCIST!!!1”.  Look, guys.  I hate to break it to you here, but listen up – If every film that comes out (and this seems to happen in roughly the same cyclical timespan – summer releases, fall releases), is the SCARIEST FILM SINCE THE EXORCIST or the SCARIEST FILM OF ALL TIME, then nothing is scary (or scarier than the Exorcist), and the whole fucking thing completely loses all of it’s fucking meaning and collapses into a fucked up heap on the side of the road.  Not every film is either scarier than the Exorcist (which, let’s hold the fucking phone here for a second and get real – the Exorcist isn’t the be all and end all of horror films, and nor should it be so please stop it), or the scariest film of all time.  I personally, would feel better about films if the reviews and taglines coming out about them were honest.  Talk to me about the film.  Was 47 Meters Down an anxiety inducing vacation nightmare?  Okay, cool.  Tell me that.  Was RAW artsy and stylistic?  Tell me that.  Stop using the same catch all words and phrases and blips to describe films.  If you’re a journalist, or even a shitty one, chances are, you have an admiration for the written word.  SO FUCKING EXPAND THIS ADMIRATION.  I will sign off this particular point with a quote spoken by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society:

3.  The concept of critical thinking around reading stories like the ones I’ve linked above involving films like RAW seem to just take a leap out the goddamn window. Stories like this one even make the claim that multiple people / “grown men” were running for aisles, fainting and vomiting during Raw’s showing at the Toronto International Film Festival.  So I’ve done some digging on this story and found one pertinent link which contains the confirmation from a TIFF spokesperson that two people (two isn’t really multiple, it’s just two) did feel unwell during the screening of RAW, and one did require emergency services.  So, if I put on my thinking cap about the absolute truth of the story, which is that two felt pukey during the film screening, all this tells me is that two people were unwell and it implies that the correlation of these patrons having seen the film is the causation of their illness.  But, as anyone on the internet should know by now – correlation does not equal causation, and there’s a multitude of factors that could be at a play here.  For example – many people travel to attend TIFF, and many people also succumb to traveler’s diarrhea.  Most people who are travelling are also indulging in food, drink, and other kinds of partying while on vacation, and all of these things can contribute to a raw (hehe) stomach.  An anecdotal story from my own experience around attending the inaugural Housecore Horror Festival in 2013, where in I was super drunk, super stoned, super dehydrated, and full of goat meat and almost vomited into my purse at a showing of Jim Van Bebber’s “Gator Green / My Sweet Satan”. I think it had more to do with environmental factors than anything related to the content of the films. Further to this, I once had a full on five alarm panic attack at a showing of The Great Gatsby. Was it because hearing Kanye really upset me that much, or was it because a fat dude sitting next to me was basically sitting on top of me and smelled like the Horror At Camp Jellyjam?  Probably the latter.

Now, I don’t want to take a dump on RAW, mostly because it’s a sound enough film that it isn’t actually bad per se.  But I went into it expecting some SALO esque nonsense or even some intense Cannibal Ferox type of bullshit, and in terms of what I did get, the action was fairly tame.

However, I remain fully convinced that had I gone into the film not knowing anything about it, I probably would have loved it a lot more.  As I mentioned previously, RAW has recently received a DVD release and it’s available for purchase in Wal-Mart which is a great concept to me, and had I not heard all the hype and simply picked up the film and watched it, I know I would have felt differently.

Anyone else guilty of buying whatever garbage they have at Wal-Mart and then watching the movies to find out if they’re any good and occaisionally being pleasantly surprised?  I honestly use it as kind of coping mechanism to get through buying groceries each week.  Every now and then I get a cool movie for my collection.

Anyways, SPOILER alert for RAW:

Anyways, back to RAW.  Justine is a young veterinary student who is leaving the nest to attend her first year at a veterinary college.  Justine’s parents are both lifelong vegetarians who escort their youngest daughter to school and the viewer finds out quickly that they are both veterinarians themselves.  Justine’s older sister Alexia has already completed her first year at the school and she welcomes her young sister into the kind of ritual first week of hazing for the new veterinarians.

The first night, Justine is taken to a party and forced by Alexia to eat a raw rabbit kidney, despite her vegetarianism.  Afterwards, she develops an itchy rash all over her body and the viewer is treated to many artsy butt shots of Justine scratching at her ass rash.

i love the internet

Like most vegans, Justine abandons her veggie loving ways and begins craving for flesh.  She finds herself eating kebabs with her gay room mate and pretty quickly she’s munching on raw meat too.  The film also shows that the stretch of road surrounding the school is home to a lot of car accidents.  More on this later.

Later on, as Alexia is giving her sister a pussy waxing (??), Justine flinches and kicks her sister who is trying to scissor some wax off her pussy lip, and accidentally cuts off her sister’s finger with those scissors.  Justine calls 911, and since she’s gotta wait (?), she decides to eat her sister’s finger..  and this is kind of the titular “gore” scene, and it’s pretty tame.  It’s pretty clearly a cute french babe eating a chicken wing.

that’s the stuff

So while I appreciated the “gore” making of chowing down on a fingie, I didn’t really find much more of it in RAW.  There are several follow up scenes where Justine bites herself during sex, gets high and drunk, fights with her sister and drunkenly nips at a human cadaver at a party.  And we have all been there, haven’t we?  Also there’s a real bop of a french rap song that gets played as Justine is all sexed up on human meat.  I mean, who can blame her, don’t we all get a little hopped up after a good steak?  I mean before the meat sweats kick in.

Oh and she also finds out that all the car accidents that are happening along the stretch of road are because her sister dives in front of oncoming vehicles and then chows down on whoever is unlucky enough to be behind the wheel.  Talk about a case of the Mondays, amirite?

Justine ends up convincing her gay room mate Adrien to fuck her and it’s hella weird, and she engages in the biting during that scene and this pretty much seals Adrien’s fate, because as the old adage goes – never stick in your dick in crazy (or cannibalism).  She wakes up beside him to find him torn apart, mutilated, and I suppose this is more gore making, but it’s pretty tame.  Justine finds out that her sister Alexia was the one who killed and ate Adrien.  Justine debates killing her sister but instead she shoves her into the shower and they embrace.

A few months later Alexia is in the nuthouse, and Justine is home with her parents and dear old Dad reveals that he is the human pacifier to the girl’s mother’s cannibal needs, by revealing a chest full of bite marks.  This was one of the reasons that Justine’s parents were such staunch vegetarians.

So.  All told, RAW was okay.  I really recommend it to the viewer, despite all my humming and hawwing over it in the previous few paragraphs.  I’m really into French horror films – films like Martyrs, and High Tension are old favourites of mine.  This film could have been a little bit more gorey/horrifying for my own personal tastes, but this -was- the debut of Ducournau, and she did kick some serious ass with it.  That said, this film is no more or less gorey/teen girl sexual than Canadian films like Ginger Snaps.

I wish the hype machine would shut up, because in some ways I was disappointed that I wasn’t super grossed out by RAW.  I ate like two hot dogs with the DIAG crew and smoked some serious reefer and I found RAW to be oddly palatable.  Goes with another RAW that I dig:

I’m interested to see what’s coming down the line for Julia Ducournau, and I’m always in the mood for cannibals.

 

 

 

So until next time, don’t stick your dick in crazy, eat lots of hot dogs and always always ALWAYS stay spooky!

 

-Robin (@oldblackgoat on twitter)

 

 

 

 

 

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