Eat Your Heart Out: The Carnivorous Women of Raw and The Lure
Women feasting on the life-force of men is no new trend in narratives. From succubuses to sirens, there have always been stories of female-bodied creatures looking to lead men astray and feed on them. Hell, there are corners of the internet where you can find anonymous commenters insisting this is a real thing that women do to men in society: we drain them of their essence. That it is our nature and our pleasure to do so.
The concept of the vagina dentata follows the same idea, that women have something inside of them that seeks to destroy men. A whole culture of anxiety has been built around the concept of women, or creatures taking the form of women, finding ways to draw men to their doom. In both Raw and The Lure, the story follows the women that are doing the devouring instead of the victims being devoured; two very different perspectives on the age-old archetype of feminine wiles hiding certain death.
Nowadays we believe sailors heard manatees or whales, but what a world it must have been to really believe that it was mermaids and sirens singing out the path to their destruction. The Lure (released in 2015 in Poland, 2017 in the US) is a modern day mermaid tale, complete with musical numbers and simple, effective visual effects. In it, two mermaid sisters are recruited into a nightclub act where one of the sisters, Srebrna (Marta Mazurek), falls for the young musician they perform with, Mietek (Jakub Gierszal). She toys with the idea of giving up her legs as well as her voice in order to be with him though he refers to her as “an animal” when he sees her with her tail. Her sister Zlota (Michalina Olszanska) couldn’t care less about being in love with some stupid human and holds off for as long as she can before she hunts down an unsuspecting rube and rips his heart out of his chest. One of the most arresting scenes in the movie is Zlota crawling down the beach with her full mermaid tail and a heart in her mouth, the path in front of her being lit by the unfortunate man’s headlights.
While the movie does lack some depth and development of the relationship between Srebrna and Mietek, she gives up her tail for him and undergoes a painful surgery to construct legs. This messes with not only her singing voice but her sister’s as well. Zlota is not really painted as a villain and the fact that she loses part of her ability due to her sister’s decision is played for sympathy. Ultimately, Mietek falls in love with someone else and Srebrna is faced with the choice of eating his heart before sunset or turning to seafoam.
The Lure could have filled out some if its more interesting concepts in lieu of another musical number or two. Both mermaids have hypnotic voices and while Srebrna gets seduced by the human world, Zlota is always prickly and standoffish–less interested in the lures and more interested in the prey. She doesn’t peer into men’s souls or coax them to pointless death; she feeds on them and needs to in order to survive. The mermaids of The Lure are more like sharks than sirens watching sailors drown for fun. They are feral animals the human world doesn’t understand and like so many things we don’t understand, they are brought to us for entertainment without us truly knowing what we’ve signed on for.
Speaking of sisterly bonds and metaphors of female sexuality, Raw (2017 in the US) is a French Belgian cannibal movie where a vegetarian vet student finds herself craving human meat after being forced to eat a rabbit kidney in a weird initiation ritual. Kids these days.
Justine (Garance Marillier) is starting at the vet school her sister Alex (Ella Rumpf) started at the year before. The school has a shockingly intense hazing process that involves a lot of blood and animal parts. Also, all the professors seem totally fine with it. Alex literally shoves the raw rabbit kidney into Justine’s mouth and before you can say “medium rare,” Justine is breaking out in unexplained rashes and eating raw chicken straight out of the package in the middle of the night. In a freak accident, Alex’s finger gets cut off and Justine calls for help as Alex passes out. Justine, sitting there on the phone with emergency services and holding her sister’s finger, hesitates just for a second before tasting the blood then diving into the flesh like a frat guy on wing night. She’s so into it, she doesn’t notice her sister has regained consciousness and is staring at her with an expression of betrayal rather than solid disgust.
Turns out Alex is into the same shit and she gifts Justine a car accident with two victims who aren’t going to make it so Justine can feed. As Justine gives into her urges, her behavior becomes crazier and crazier. She drinks more, starts sleeping with her gay roommate, seems to always be under the influence as she staggers and sways through claustrophobic party scenes. Unlike Zlota from The Lure, Justine experiences intoxication when she consumes flesh. Zlota is an animal; Justine is a human. Her carnivorous desires are unnatural. Though by the end of the movie, there is a chillingly rational explanation of Alex's natural instincts.
While The Lure is about unusual women navigating a world that discards and objectifies them, Raw is about characters wanting to fit in despite having something to hide. Justine questions if she’s weird, brings up feeling average, and would prefer to go unnoticed. The film eventually pits the two sisters against each other in a very public fashion and their physical showdown is highlighted by the chunks of flesh they manage to rip out of each other before they’re torn apart. There’s even the competition over a man as Justine tells Alex to stay away from her roommate in every sense–which of course prompts Alex to go after him, specifically his body.
Both films use the metaphor of eating humans (or human parts) for female sexuality. Justine’s desire explodes out of her and can’t be controlled, even though the rest of her life is being controlled down to the minute by school, family, and basic society bullshit. She is overwhelmed by it, wants to get rid of it, falls prey to it. On the other side, Zlota has complete control over herself and feels no guilt over her actions. When a TV report announces a man was found with his heart ripped out and the tracks of a strange creature next to his car, Zlota shrugs coyly as the other characters gape at her. She is put-off by men being sexually aggressive and does not understand why her sister wants to be part of this world, to borrow a phrase from a more well-known mermaid musical.
The initial tales of carnivorous creatures that look like human women are dripping with male sexual anxiety. They’re about being led astray and how pretty things can’t be trusted. With these two movies, we get to see either the struggle or the passion that these women face, making female sexuality a burden, or a god damned blessing, depending on which characters you identify with. Personally, I’m a fan of the shameless, pop-singing mermaid. Not the one who gave up her legs, obviously. She makes really, really bad life choices.