By the time RAW, directed by Julia Ducournau, made it to my local cinema, expectations had been well established. The film was cemented shortly after its premiere as the next big thing in gory horror cinema, with this cannibalistic, coming-of-age story causing people to “throw up” and “pass out” at several premier screenings. I skipped dinner (for obvious reasons) and joked with my friends about what we would see. “It’s going to be a Vince McMahon biopic” I pronounced, a silly attempt to ease my anxiety and rest my stomach. See, I’m a horror fan, but something about the way this film was hyped made me nervous. Even the owner of the theater said to us: “This is our first screening, maybe we need to hand out puke bags at the door.” Safe to say, I expected a silly, over the top gore fest, that I may or may not have remembered upon leaving.
But, when the film opened, and the score kicked in, I was immediately transfixed. It was not what I expected at all. The film is an experiment in the art of juxtaposition. It’s unnerving and erotic, beautiful and sadistic, it’s a film that uses the horror genre to tell a wonderful story about a fascinating female lead. I truly feel this is an art house masterpiece, one that deserves to be seen by horror and art-house fans alike.
This juxtaposition of themes is best explored in Jim Williams’ evocative score. Rather than relying on an overabundance of drones and synths, as so many of these “horror rebirth” films do today, Williams often works within the acoustic realm on RAW. The score contains six subtle guitar-driven movements over the course of the two LPs, interspersed between intense moments of musical dread. These acoustic tracks, titled “Child’s Music” parts 1-6, are soft and sweet, each an expression of Justine’s child-like naivety. They are calm and quiet, and each evoke a feeling similar to sitting in tall grass, wet with morning dew as the sun rises over mountain tops. Early in the film, as Justine is riding in the backseat of her parents car with her dog, she looks out the window at the trees, making her way to her first semester at veterinary school, no doubt contemplating her venture into adulthood. It’s in these moments the music shines.
But again, these moments of serenity rest between moments of dread. Williams often times, throughout these darker tracks, utilizes a booming organ, and what sounds like a harpsichord, reminding the audience of what they’re actually watching. There’s a moment later in the film, where Justine may or may not be within the confines of reality, hiding under her sheets, while it then appears she’s unable to escape them. The booming sound of Williams’ score kicks in, and I could not help but feel the fear Justine was experiencing in that moment; yes Marillier’s emotive performance deserves much of the credit, along with the film’s astounding cinematography, but Williams’ unnerving score brings all of those facets together. The score is a joy to listen to, in and outside the constraints of the film, and is easily one of my favorite albums of the year.
First, the bad. I found persistent background noise, just loud enough to be somewhat distracting over the quiet acoustic parts of the score. On the positive end, though, the more foreboding moments are appropriately large and loud, drowning out that background trouble. The vinyl handles the low end well. Despite those earlier complaints, the actual acoustic fingerpicking never sounds muddled, every chord forward and clear. For the most part, the record sounds good, but it’s not audiophile quality, a let down given Death Waltz’s usual fantastic work. It still has a nice warm sound to it that just cannot be found with digital releases.
Like most Death Waltz/Mondo releases, RAW comes in a beautiful gatefold package, with wonderful artwork. Candice Tripp was selected this time around as primary artist, with Jay Shaw providing additional layout support. In examining Tripp’s previous work that can be found online, it’s clear why Death Waltz selected her for the job. She has an innate ability to create art that is both beautiful and unsettling, much like the film and its score.
The cover image shows two female corpses, split into sections. While you can see Justine’s face, it’s unclear where her body ends, and her potential victim’s body begins. It works well to incorporate both the setting of the film (veterinary school), and the conflict and entanglement of the film’s two female leads. The cover also features a spot gloss over the bloody areas — a nice touch. When you open the gatefold, you are met with an image of a large horse hanging upside down (a callback to a particularly unsettling scene in the film), with a bright red background. It’s a stark contrast from the white, gray, and blue color palette used on the front — once again — building on that juxtaposition that is so integral to the film. The vinyl itself for this review is the webstore exclusive, which is a dark bloody red; the center labels say RAW in an eerie font. The back of the release features some solid text design for the tracklisting, and an image of the main character’s family dog; you’ll have to see the movie to see how the dog plays into the film. The vinyl here is a deep bloody red that changes shades, resembling a pool of coagulated blood.