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Month of Horror 2017: Dealer’s Choice – Female Directors: Raw (Grave)

10/06/2017 – Female Directors: Raw (Grave) (2016)
Directed by Julia Ducournau

Technically I discussed this topic here last year, but I did so on the 12th review of the final day of the marathon. I summed up the work of over half the world’s population in a paragraph for a short and most of that was just a list. I won’t say it was a shameful treatment on my part, but I do think it is indicative of the genre’s relative lack of history in the genre and I think we can all agree it is not out of a lack of ability, just lack of opportunities.

But let’s not just blame horror (a sentiment I shouldn’t have to keep saying as much as I do), women are underrepresented everywhere in film be it onscreen, behind the camera, or in target audience. In 2016, the filmmakers of the top 250 grossing films in the US declined by 2% to an embarrassing 7%, a number unchanged from near two decades prior. Still, as I admitted last year, horror is a genre especially bad in this regard as I was able to cover just about every notable female director in a list of eleven names. Many of those only ever having released a single notable title (especially in the genre) and only one of them (Kathryn Bigelow) has achieved any sort of mainstream success.

For those not interested in clicking over and scrolling a bunch, here is that entire list: Claire Denis (Trouble Every Day), Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark), Rachel Talalay (Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare), Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary), Antonia Bird (Ravenous), Mary Harron (American Psycho), Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body, The Invitation), the Soska Sisters (American Mary), Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) Julia Ducournau (Raw), and Jennifer Kent (The Babadook). Since then we have had a few additions with Alice Lowe’s (SightseersGarth Marenghi’s Darkplace) weird but enjoyable move behind the camera with Prevenge, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch, Amirpour’s more poorly reviewed follow-up in The Bad Batch, Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome, and the anthology title XX which had segments by Kusama, singer St. Vincent, Roxanne Benjamin (who also contributed to 2015’s Southbound, and the director I actually featured last year in Jovanka Vuckovic.

I’ll also admit there have been some more modestly received titles over the years such as 1983’s The Slumber Party Massacre (Amy Jones), 2014’s Honeymoon (Leigh Janiak), and 2015’s The Lesson so it’s not that those directors are the only ones, it’s just that in a year where horror has taken a major place at the box office and in the collective consciousness we still haven’t come very far in this area if all we can manage is three token limited releases and two straight to streaming titles. So, all we can do as horror writers (shut up, I am too a writer) is hype these titles up and give them attention until the day where it’s nothing out of the ordinary and hope that more women are given a chance to and inspired into making horror films. I’ll try to get to as many as I can this month.

You’ll notice in that list of the third paragraph the title of the movie I’m taking a look at today. At the time of posting that, Raw was merely a festival darling but in 2017 it got a US release and led the female directed horror film pack with $508,425. It’s no Wonder Woman or even a number of the films of years past but that’s sadly enough to claim the crown. It’s also amazingly only one of three non-English language titles listed above (and one of those was by an American) and Ducournau’s solo feature debut. This may be the longest I’ve gone into October without at least one foreign title. I’ve written about French cinema here und here if you’d like to read more or need some more time to kill (side note, Kinja is better than Disqus at one thing, making linking to threads so much easier).

Raw opens on a quiet road with a person walking in the distance and as a car drives up the person jumps in front of it and the car is forced to swerve into a tree and we aren’t given any context (though it is pretty damn obvious what is happening based entirely on the poster). They rise and walk to the car, the only sound aside from the car crashing is some building minimalist music. The whole movie is scored to this very modern indie horror style that I’m a fan of. Minimalism has always been something I’ve found appealing (aside from in movie posters which stopped being interesting after the first dozen) and having the world move towards it is a feeling I’m uncomfortable with since I’m not still not used to people starting to like something I’m into. The cinematography matches with a well shot minimalism typified by such films as It Follows.

A woman heads off to a veterinary school where her older sister also goes and the film takes place during some weird hazing thing that starts with men in balaclavas involving them all crawling half-dressed across the ground and then led to some debauched party. Later all the freshmen are covered in blood and forced to eat raw rabbit kidney (seriously, what the fuck French schools) including our vegetarian lead. The school apparently condones this considering they show up for class covered in blood and pictures of it from past years are kept hanging up. I guess I could commend them for having coed roommates but seriously, what the heck is wrong with them where they condone forcing women to either wear nightclub attire or a diaper over their clothes? Frats and specifically rushing is a silly and pointless enough concept but this is something for like the whole school. Hell, later on there is a thing where two people are basically thrown in a room together and told not to come out until they have gotten together. The school nurse even smokes in the room with the patient and manages to seem like the only sane person by implying she knows how terrible that place is.

The woman develops a bad rash all over her body (not to be surprised after eating raw meat from a questionable source and preserved in questionably manner) which she keeps scratching at and her body starts peeling. While annoying it’s another symptom that is far more serious as we see a SPOILERS developing thirst for meat. She sneaks some meat into her pocket and later she eats some raw chicken and as someone currently watching Santa Clarita Diet (and someone with even a vague horror knowledge), I know where this is going. END OF SPOILERS

I’m not really bothered by graphic horror but seeing her throw up some hair she has nervously been eating reminded me of how disgusted I am of seeing hair snaked out of the shower and I’m not gonna lie, I found the Brazilian scene nigh-unwatchable and not for anything horror related. It more than any other depiction just made me wonder even more why women do it even with the expectations of men that they look try to look prepubescent *shudders*. There’s also an animal dissection scene was pretty graphic but unlike say Cannibal Holocaust, it wasn’t all that hard to watch but still, I know there’s a contingent who this is a deal breaker for.

SPOILERS Her sister’s finger accidentally gets chopped off by a pair of scissors and while her sister is passed out, she tastes the blood and then eats the finger. She still gets caught by the sister and they hide it, the look on her sister’s face that was more wacky sitcom “what am I going to do with you?” than horror, setting up the rest of the film. Her sister jumps in front of a car much like how we see in the opening scene so they can both eat but our lead refuses and it becomes clear that not only are they both afflicted, but the sister was behind the incident in the intro. As she starves herself, her lusts grow and she starts appearing more confident, the primal urge metaphors as our virginal vegetarian moves towards human consumption and wanting to have sex.

The metaphor I found worked best is actually a rape one involving her being wasted and taunted with a dead human hand so she’d keep biting at it and yet she yells at her friend who filmed it for not stopping it and just standing around and watching. END OF SPOILERS The film goes for a wide swath of metaphors though which it generally handles well if not too subtly, but then again horror is not exactly the place you go for subtlety. I’m not fond of the whole sleeping with a gay roommate and I’m still not sure what the film was trying to say as a part of me thinks they were trying to imply that even gay men have a primal urge to fuck women. SPOILERS I am far more fond of the reveal at the end (if hardly a shocking one) after her sister is caught eating a chunk of the roommate’s leg and arrested, where the dad reveals their mom suffered from this affliction too, the slow reveal of his scarred-up chest being especially wonderfully shot. END OF SPOILERS

After a slow start, we are finally reversing the trend of this month. Raw isn’t about to be placed alongside Mother and Get Out and it isn’t anywhere near as memorable, but it’s a great film. As much as I wanted to avoid talking about female directors in the context of the actual review since the ultimate goal beyond a more equitable gender divide is that films are judged on their own merits and not by the race or gender of the director, it is hard to divorce some of the themes from a uniquely female perspective. Sex metaphors have been done to death in horror but the comments the film makes about female appearance and that scene where even before it goes wrong, shows the Brazilian wax as terrifying, point to one of the main reasons why (besides you know equality) it sucks having a heavily male focused industry (despite anecdotally for what little it’s worth knowing and having met a greater percentage of women into horror then men). There are just so many untapped insights waiting to be explored with different perspectives on well-worn themes keeping the genre fresh.

Next up: Another franchise doubleheader, this time in the Ouija films as I look at that high grossing but looked down upon trend in horror, horror that is rated below an R.

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