Raw. Courtesy of 5th Avenue Cinema.

Find it at 5th: Raw

A French horror film with a fresh take on cannibalism

This weekend at Portland State’s 5th Avenue Cinema—Portland’s only student-run theater—our film curators have chosen to screen Raw, a modern French horror movie.


Raw is a film from 2016 about two sisters in veterinarian school. Justine (Garance Marillier) joins her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) at the school where their parents met. Beginning on their first night at the school, Justine and her roommate Adrien (Rabah Naït Oufella) are forced to participate in a week-long hazing. They are shown a lot of bloody activities and traditions that students are expected to join in on. During their first class, the students are required to eat raw rabbit kidneys, but Justine refuses because of her vegetarianism. Alexia forces her to eat the kidney and quickly develops a rash and gets diagnosed with food poisoning. Although the meat was quite literally sickening, Justine grows ashamed of how hungry she is for more. Alexia recognizes this hunger and begins to teach her sister how to become a cannibal.


The film was chosen for screening by 5th Avenue Cinema’s Andi Johnson. The students of the theater wanted their films to reflect the vibes of October, so they’ve decided to close these last weekends of the month with horror films.


“My partner showed it to me,” Johnson said. “She saw it when it came out in theaters and she was like, ‘this movie’s crazy, we should watch this together.’” Johnson said they don’t like “the classic supernatural serial killer murderer kills teens” horror movies like Halloween or Friday the 13th. Johnson said they are more into horror films that have in-depth characters. “In this movie, the ‘monster’ is the main character so you’re sort of repulsed and disgusted by her, but you’re also sympathetic to what’s going on and it feels more complicated in that way,” they said.


Raw is the first feature film from Julia Ducournau. The French director brought this film to a few festivals and earned the Best First Feature at the London Film Festival. Johnson pointed out that Ducournau directed Titane as well, which came out last year in 2021 and got a lot of well-deserved recognition. “She’s sort of known for making these visceral, intense movies—and Raw definitely is,” Johnson said.


Johnson noted one scene as being especially gruesome. “The older sister is helping the other sister do something, and then cuts her toe off on accident and the younger sister eats it!” they said. They further explained that it was the moment when the older sister realized her younger sister also has a craving for flesh, even though her sister thought she had passed out. “I would say that’s the first scene of cannibalism in the movie and then it kind of picks up from there,” Johnson said. “It’s disturbing—there are disturbing things about it, but it’s not like someone jumps out and stabs a character that you’ve been following around, it’s more like something you feel in your gut.”


Raw can be shocking at times, but it’s not as serious as its topic of cannibalism implies. “There’s some levity to it,” Johnson explained. They said the film takes place during the daytime, so it doesn’t create the dark atmosphere that most people might expect. “I think the sunlight is why it doesn’t feel as disgusting as it sounds, because there is some sort of humor there.” But, as Johnson clarified, “I don’t think anyone’s going to be coming to this movie and laughing in their seat, but there are some things to lighten the intensity and the sort of yucky scenes like ‘holy shit, she’s like eating her sister’s toe right now.’”


Johnson said they thought that horror fans—the people that really know the genre—will enjoy this film. “Evil Dead, when that came out, was an independent horror film doing all these radical things that had people like, ‘oh they put a camera on a board, they’re doing all this cool shit!’” they explained. “So it had this huge cultural impact because it was this different kind of horror experience that people really connected to, and since then it’s become a sort of cultural cornerstone.”


“I don’t think that this movie necessarily has that same impact, but it’s doing these different things for the horror genre that those movies were doing when they came out,” Johnson clarified.


“For the people who are die hard ‘I only watch classic horror,’ think about this movie in the context of like when those movies were being released, because those movies were doing revolutionary things and this movie is doing something similar,” Johnson explained. They said that they imagine that people will look back in 20 years and appreciate this film for what it is.


One of the biggest compliments Johnson gave this film was for its complex characters. “It gives space to female characters that are complicated and allowed to be morally evil, in some ways,” they said. “Cannibalism is like the pinnacle of all evil for humans, so letting these characters be evil characters but still sympathetic young women who are trying to learn about themselves in a difficult society is really valuable to see, and we still need a lot of movies like that that give people some validation to their experience.”


Johnson compared this to the movie that they originally wanted to program this weekend—a similar film from the ‘90s called Ginger Snaps, which is about two high school girls who become werewolves. “It’s not very common that movies are made about young women that are given the agency to be complicated monsters,” Johnson explained. “Oftentimes, women within the horror genre are just either pegged as the victims or as the objectively evil figure. The cool thing about this movie is you get to see these young women have the agency to be complex monsters, which I think is not very common, especially freshman college age. The movie never trivializes them, it doesn’t make them into characters that are reductive or stereotypical, which I think is one part about it that’s nice.”


The complex characters and fresh film techniques is what keeps Johnson interested in modern horror movies, compared to the classic slasher films. “I think this [Raw] is a great example of a contemporary horror that is doing what those movies were doing when they were coming out,” Johnson said. “They were groundbreaking movies at the time, in terms of their depiction of character, their score, their visuals, language.” It’s not that the classic slasher films are bad, it’s that the genre has evolved and has created higher expectations for current and future movies.


“5th Ave is one of the few places where you can see this kind of shit and it’s really fun to show cool movies like this,” Johnson said. “It’s something a little different, and if you’re scared of subtitles, this is the one to come see—you get a lot just from the visuals.”


Students can catch a showing of Raw on campus for free at 5th Avenue Cinema this weekend, on Friday or Saturday at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.