Sunday, March 28, 2021

RAW (2016) (Second Sight Films Limited Edition Blu-ray Review)

RAW (2016)
Limited Edition Blu-ray

Label: Second Sight Films
Release Date: April 19th 2021
Region Code: B
Rating: Cert. 18
Audio: Uncompressed French DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: Julia Ducournau
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella

Stringent vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier, Warning) is unceremoniously dropped off by her parents for her freshman year at a French veterinary school, the same where her older sibling Alexia (Ella Rumpf) attends. She's a bit lost at first, coming of as shy, naïve and awkward, but she manages to find her dorm and meet her roommate, a gay man named Adrian (Rabah Naït Oufella). Not long after settling into her new collegiate digs she and the entirety of the freshman dorm are subjected a series of semi-vicious hazing rituals, which includes humiliations by upper classmen, having their mattresses tossed out the dorm windows, being splashed with animal blood and crawling on their hands and knees to a sub-basement rave, the latter of which is not so bad. Those French veterinarians students might be a cruel bunch but they know how to throw a college party! That her sister is a senior and has been through it all already offers her little respite from the daily hazing, in fact when she is told she must eat raw rabbit kidney as part of the rite of passage she protests, being a devout vegetarian, but it's her own sister that ends up shoving it into her mouth!

The next morning she awakens with an sever body rash that covers most of her body, she goes to campus health where she is diagnosed with food poisoning and is treated with a cream. The rash disappears shortly but Justine begins to have inexplicable cravings for raw meat, it seems that eating that animal's kidney has seemingly awakened new impulses and urges. As these changes begins to take hold she becomes, more confident, sexually aggressive, and her cravings for raw meat evolve into a hunger for human flesh. Later during a paint-covered 'seven minutes in heaven' type party game she bites a large chunk of a classmates lower lip off.

The dynamic of the sisters reminded me a bit of sibling-horror Ginger Snaps (2000), the older sibling not being the best influence on the younger sister. At one point Alexis is attempting to give Justine her first bikini wax which goes awry. When the older sibling comes at her with a pair of scissors to cut the hardened wax off, Justine instinctively kicks at her sister out of fear, accidentally lopping off the tip of her sister's finger. Justine passes out after seeing the horrific finger-injury, but instead of calling for help the younger sister becomes fixated on the pooling blood from the severed finger tip and begins licking at it, liking the taste she starts nibbling on it. Increasingly ashamed by her newfound craving for human flesh Justine is surprised when her sister later takes her for a walk on a rural stretch of country road, where she reveals that she understands her sister's cravings, and teaches her a way to "safely" procure human flesh for consumption.

Regardless of this new understanding between them, the siblings are still very much at odds, and after night of binge drinking Alexis films her sister in a feral state in the school morgue where she is drunkenly trying to take a bite out of the cadaver. The sister shares the video online which results in the sisters attacking each other on campus, tearing chunks of flesh from each other, and as you might imagine things escalate with tragic consequences.

Raw (2016) is a film that I had heard hyped a lot when it was first emerging, and as I do with a lot of hyped films I put it o the backburner and let it cool down a bit before I dig in. When I finally did throw it on I was pleasantly surprised, the flick is an unsettling coming-of-age story, I love the difficult dynamic between the sisters, the body-horror elements are tasty, and the it is well directed. It certainly was not as vomit-inducing as initial reports of people fainting at early screenings would have you believe (are they ever?). It is in fact a bit lite on horror gags if you're a hardened horror enthusiast looking for a gross-out, but the story is engaging and the teen cannibal coming-of-age heart of it kept me plugged in right on through to the end.

It's not the sort of film that expo dumps or over explains anything, in fact it leaves quite a bit to the imagination. Even a reveal at the end by the father of the siblings offers more questions than answers, I and dug that, I like a film that keeps it's mystery about it. Not a gore-fest by any stretch of the imagination but a potent and unsettling coming of age story that gets under the skin and makes you squirm.

Audio/Video: Raw (2016) arrives on region-B Blu-ray from Second Sight Films in 1080p HD framed in widescreen (2.35:1). The digital shot film looks great, we get pleasing depth and clarity to it. Colors are well-saturated and natural looking, and the blacks are solid. Audio on the Blu-ray comes by way of French DTS-HD MA 5.1 with optional English subtitles. The soundstage feels natural and has some good depth to it, especially when the score from Jim Willliams (Sightseers) kicks in.

Second Sight offer quite a few extras for this unsettling French film, beginning with a pair of audio commentaries. The first with film critic Alexandra West, and a second with with Julia Ducournau and film critic Emma Westwood. Interviews start-up with the 15-minute The Girl Can’t Help It star Garance Marillier discusses how she came to work with director Ducournau in film school, how she enjoys playing unusual characters and how their collaboration works. She also touches on the themes of the film, what it means to her and how it helped her discover her own acting identity, and working with her co-stars. In the 15-minute Making Ends Meat Producer Jean des Forets begins with his early love of cinema, both French and international, and how he thought early on that Raw might have international appeal. How it was his biggest production to date at the time, that even while writing the script the budget was a concern, but that budget did not strip away much, except a song that was outside of their price range. He also gets into the tone of the film, researching American teen movies and the influence of Carrie. Also touched on are the demands of working with live animals, and how composer Jan Williams, whose music was the temp score, came to actually work on the film. Closing with the distribution of the film and it's success worldwide.

In the Name of Raw is an interview with Director Julia Ducournau made for Filmo TV, in which the directors talks about writing the script, going through the various drafts, the crating of the characters, and what she omitted in the process. I was particularly keen of how she spoke of how the sisters were not always sisters in the script, but that once she made them sisters it explained by the younger character would take so much shit from another girl and keep coming back to her, she's family. They also get into the cinematography, how she builds establishing shots, creating tension in a scene, and her refusal to write or shoot a scene that she does not find interesting.

Additionally we get the 13-minute A Family Affair video essay by film critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, the 14-minute Raw À Votre Goût with Julia Ducournau & film critic Emma Westwood, the 3-minute Quick Bites with Julia Ducournau and film critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, and the 57-minute Genre Matters Panel Discussion that also features producer Marisa Brown, plus directors Heide Lee Douglass (7 from Etheria), Brionny Kidd (The Room at the Top of the Stairs), Mattie Do (The Long Walk), and Donna Mcrae (Lost Gully Road). The disc is buttoned up with a 6-minute Australian Premiere Introduction and the 42-minute Australian Premiere Q&A with Julia Ducournau and Kier-La Janisse, plus 4-minutes of alternate/deleted scenes. We were only send a check disc for the review, but packaging extras are listed below.

Special Features:
- The Girl Can’t Help It: a new interview with Actor Garance Marillier (15 min)
-Making Ends Meat: a new interview with Producer Jean des Forets (15 min)
- New audio commentary by film critic Alexandra West
- Audio Commentary with Julia Ducournau and film critic Emma Westwood
- In the Name of Raw: an interview with Director Julia Ducournau (49 min)
- A Family Affair: a new video essay by film critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (13 min)
- Raw À Votre Goût –featurette with Julia Ducournau & film critic Emma Westwood (14 min)
- Quick Bites with Julia Ducournau and film critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (3 min)
- Genre Matters Panel Discussion (57 min)
- Australian Premiere Introduction (6 min)
- Australian Premiere Q&A with Julia Ducournau and Kier-La Janisse (42 min)
- Deleted/Alternate Scenes (4 min)

Limited Edition Contents:
- Rigid slipcase
- Perfect-bound booklet with new essays by Hannah Woodhead and Emma Westwood plus interview with Julia Ducournau by Lou Thomas
- Three collectors’ art cards (4th art card web store exclusive)

Raw (2016) is an unsettling and visceral piece of work, the elements of cannibalism salted with the disturbing coming-of-age story works for me. Don't come into it expecting a gore-filled New French Extremity entry, it's not that kind of flick, though it is deeply disturbing, if Swallow (2109) got under your skin I think that this one will also affect you deeply. Kindred films to pair this with would be Brian De Palma's Carrie, Ginger Snaps, Teeth, and Cronenberg's Rabid. A very strong feature-film debut from French filmmaker Julia Ducournau, I am very excited what she does next.

Screenshots form the Blu-ray: