The unsettling atmosphere of the university gives the viewer the misimpression that the source of the horror will reside in the school itself. The behavior of the second years especially, dousing the first years in blood and forcing them to eat raw meat, creates the illusion of an antagonist in the first half. However, the audience is slowly made to understand that the protagonist we’ve been identifying with is meant to be the villain. That she and her sister are a danger to others.
There is a certain brand of French humor that closes the film that is rooted in our tendency for false practicality, yet another link to French society’s treatment of mental illness. Justine’s mother is revealed to also be a cannibal. The family’s choice to be vegetarian is thus revealed to be an attempt to avoid having their children hurt others. However, this plan fails once their children enter the real world and are exposed to different experiences (i.e., eating meat).
While also being a humorous plot twist punctuated by the father’s underreaction of “I’m sure you’ll find a solution, sweetie”, this plot point functions as a metaphor for French attitudes towards mental illness. Justine’s family’s solution is a flimsy one that could fall apart at the slightest mistake, yet it is the easiest one so they go with it. Instead of addressing the issue, they sweep it under the rug and ignore it. They refuse to acknowledge their darker history and prepare their kids to live out in the world, instead misleading them and making them all the more vulnerable.
Many mentally ill French teenagers have known this. They have known the experience of their mental health being waved off as an overreaction, they have known poor treatment by health professionals and the education system, they have known poor representation in media, especially comedy. They have learned to internalize this idea that mental health isn’t that important and its “victims” are trapped between quotation marks. According to the WHO, France is ranked the second highest for suicides in Europe, and Belgium is first with an exceptionally high suicide rate.
Decournau calls out medical professionals through her representation of the veterinary students who don’t actually care for the animals they will be operating on. Justine is shocked to find she’s the only one who considers animals equal to humans. This parallels with the nurse’s story about the doctors who refused to treat the plus sized girl, who refused to treat her with basic human decency. A failure on the behalf of medical staff in their capacity for empathy is highlighted here.
This is a reality many disabled and mentally ill people in France know too well. The behavior of nurses in mental hospitals, the questions asked by those meant to help suicidal people who call 911, the priorities of doctors and therapists mentally ill people come to for help. While there are people like Justine and that nurse, there are others who act appallingly, and Decournau calls them out in these interludes.
All in all, Raw is a quite feminist take on the horror concept of the man-eater, with two female leads whose arcs don’t depend on a man. This twisted take on sisterhood stands as an allegory for French society’s many problems with mental health while also being an enjoyable horror flic for fans with a strong stomach.
Image: Jazz Guy on Flickr.