The Raw Controversy Explained

From the bold filmmaker behind the provocative "Titane," Julia Ducournau's feature debut "Raw" uses visceral horror to examine adolescent yearning. The lurid film follows a young vegetarian named Justine (Garance Marillier) who attends veterinary school where she tastes meat for the first time and develops a craving for flesh — including human. After Justine is forced to eat raw rabbit kidneys as part of a hazing ritual to welcome new students, her newfound hunger becomes overpowering, and she finds herself making emergency trips to the gas station for meat and sneaking raw chicken in the early hours of the morning. 

But animal meat is not enough to satisfy her bloody appetite. After a scuffle with her older sister Alexia, as part of an attempt to give her a bikini wax, Alexia ends up cutting off her own finger and fainting. Justine picks up the finger, tastes the blood, and greedily nibbles it. Alexia's blood smears across Justine's face while she's under her ravenous spell. Alexia later reveals that she shares the same cravings as her sister when she deliberately causes a car crash and feasts on the bloody, exposed brains of one of the passengers. 

Justine's violent urges coalesce with her erotic ones. During a wild paint party, she is forced to makeout with someone; in the throes of passion, she bites off and consumes a piece of his bottom lip. When having sex with her crush Adrien, Justine furiously thrashes while trying to bite him in-between her fervent kisses, but she ends up chewing her own arm until it bleeds while having an orgasm. Adrien is later killed by Alexia; he is stabbed in the back and a gruesome shot shows the bone sticking out of the bitten, torn flesh of his right leg. 

In the disturbing final shot, Justine's father opens his shirt to reveal scars and chunks of missing chest on his body, indicating that their mother had the same cravings and her aberrant nature is hereditary. Ducournau's unflinching depiction of this gory cannibalism was too much for some audiences to handle. 

It made audiences sick

"Raw" is just one of many horror movies that made audiences physically sick. Since the shots of cannibalistic gobbling are quite candid, critics such as Variety warned viewers they might need to "reach for the barf bag." During a Midnight Madness screening at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016, two audience members fainted from the stomach-churning visuals. Ryan Werner, a marketer for the film, confirmed that an "ambulance had to be called to the scene as the film became too much for a couple patrons." Several other viewers walked out. 

It's the kind of controversy that every PR person dreams of for their new horror film, one that generates exciting buzz and makes it a must-see. Variety explains why "Raw" evoked such a strong reaction:

"Often so realistic that they are hard to look at, scenes that viewers of a sensitive nature may find disturbing see lacerated extremities, bite marks and gaping wounds perfectly walk the line between the visceral fun of practical effects and overt attention-grabbing. The effects are simply here to be believed." 

"Raw" explores the animalistic impulses — sexual or otherwise — that course through our bodies, especially during youth. Justine's transformation from timid virgin to vamp by way of cannibalism is portrayed with a primal confidence that is unsettling and difficult to look away from — even if it makes you queasy.