Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Review: Celluloid Screams

Sheffield Gothic's own Carly Stevenson reviews two films from this year's Celluloid Screams

Celluloid Screams Reviews: Pet and Raw

Pet (2016) dir. Carles Torrens 

Merry from The Lord of the Rings finds his own ‘precious’.
Unfortunately for him, she turns out to be more manipulative than Sauron
‘Love is sacrifice’: this is loner Seth’s justification for abducting Holly and caging her in the basement of the animal shelter where he works as a security guard. Naturally, she isn’t convinced, at least not at first. But make no mistake – Pet is not a story about ‘Stockholm syndrome’, nor does it adhere to the generic, exploitative conventions of victim/captor narratives. 

The film is about power – particularly, the slipperiness of power in oppressive circumstances; but more importantly, it explores who (or what) we are when we’re alone. Pet throws a curveball pretty early on and continues to toy with viewer’s expectations for the duration. 

Most of the scenes are confined to the basement, which serves the double purpose of heightening the claustrophobic effect and prompting the viewer to question: who is really being held captive in this film? And, crucially, what does it mean to be in control (of a situation and of oneself)? Granted, Pet isn’t a radically subversive film and the ‘twists’ aren’t particularly surprising to the horror aficionado, however, it is a better-than-average psychological thriller with an ending that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

Raw (2016) dir. Julia Ducournau

The aftermath of an intense food coma. We’ve all been there.
Despite only being screened at a handful of festivals, Raw already has a reputation for upsetting squeamish audience members (fainting, a la Gothic heroine, is fast becoming a fashionable phenomenon in post-millennial horror cinema) so you can imagine how excited I was to catch a preview of the most anticipated horror of 2016 in my own city. 

Happily, Raw did not disappoint. At its core, Raw is a coming-of-age story about vet student and strict vegetarian Justine, whose enrollment at the same institution as her estranged sister propels her into the seedy underworld of their cultish college. The hazing ritual for new vet students involves consuming rabbit entrails, which leads Justine on a bloody journey from ‘fresh meat’ to (human) meat-eater. Raw deals with the ultimate taboo topic of cannibalism in a shockingly comedic way by framing the flesh-eating within a narrative about familial relationships – specifically, sparring siblings who literally take chunks out of one another. Someone asked me why, as a vegan, I chose to watch Raw. 

My response is this: intentionally or not, this film destabilizes our relationship with meat by exploring, in a grotesquely exaggerated way, the effects of unrestrained appetite. Justine consumes animal parts in order to fit in with her peers, but this negation of her principles has disturbing repercussions. Controversial interpretations aside, Julie Ducournau’s promising debut is a great example of how to pace a horror film. Raw is 98 minutes of ‘all killer, no filler’, if you’ll pardon the punning colloquialism. 

Carly 'Post-Credits Secrets' Stevenson is a PhD researcher at the university of Sheffield, researching Gothic and Romantic conceptualizations of mortality. She's our regular Celluloid Screams reviewer and is always up for some frightful films or marvelously malevolent movies.

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