The French horror film RAW opened last Women’s History Month on International Women’s Day to much critical acclaim and fanfare. The movie is an artful tale about a young woman’s (Garance Marillier) foray into adulthood, veterinary school, and her relationship with her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf).

Throughout Justine’s freshmen year, she discovers the true joys of freedom and a surprising taste for carnal pleasures of the flesh and bone variety. Julia Ducournau’s writing and directing jars audiences with its striking visuals and eerie shots. She captures cannibalism’s gruesomeness while making the most normal of events, such as scratching itchy skin, into unsettling moments.

What distinguishes RAW from any ordinary horror flick is its portrayal of cis-womanhood, sexual awakening, and our innate animalistic urges. No wonder critics loved it. We, at ComicsVerse, felt mixed. Yet, there is one crucial aspect that critics overlooked that’s worth noting this Women’s History Month: sisterhood.

Sisterhood Is One of The Most Nuanced Relationships

Sibling relationships are complicated and sometimes downright challenging, especially between sisters. For instance, take the British Mitford sisters as an example. Growing up in the early 1930s, these six women, of course, held wildly different beliefs. During World War II, the oldest sister and renown author Nancy told officials that her sister Diana was a fascist. Officials later arrested Diana and her husband, who founded the British Union of Fascists.

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However, complicated doesn’t necessarily mean sister-sister relationships are always fraught. The fierce Margaret and Matilda Roumania Peters dominated the segregated U.S. tennis scene starting in the 1930s, paving the way for Serena and Venus Williams. Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa Mirabal led the opposition movement against the Dominican Republic’s dictator Rafael Trujillo.

They never lived to see Trujillo’s downfall, but they became national heroes. The United Nations later named International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women as a tribute to their legacy. From writers to activists to even Beyoncé and Solange, sisterhood whether biological or not is a mix of love, competition, respect, admiration, and so much more. The complexity of these female friendships deserves cinematic nuance.

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Justine and Alexia often disagreed on how to satisfy their carnal urges.

Finding Sister and Female Friendships on Screen

Luckily, films from various genres such as OUR LITTLE SISTERS, FROZEN, and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO accomplish this feat, drawing audiences to the world around sisterly love. Horror is one of the few genres that uniquely illustrate complex relationships and personifies societal fears and ills into evil manifestations. However, finding such sisterhood depictions in this genre is quite rare.

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Look up “sisterhood movies” on Google. You’ll find a trove of search results. From PopSugar to Thought Catalog, these sites offer lists upon lists of the best movies centered on sisterhood. However, if you look up horror films about female friendships, the search results come up sparse.

The few results that do come up vary in strength and quality. The 1973 psychological horror film SISTERS focuses on formerly conjoined twins. One is a model. The other is a serial killer. Thus high jinks and drama ensue. Others films like GINGER SNAPS and Kim Jee-Woon’s A TALE OF TWO SISTERS follow a similar vein, playing tricky dynamics between sisters.

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A TALE OF TWO SISTERS. Courtesy of B.O.M. Film Productions Co.

Moving Beyond The Sister Tropes in Horror

Movies like WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABBY JANE? rather illustrate the stereotypical cattiness in female friendship or groups of women bitterly fighting amongst each other. Slightly more progressive films like THE DESCENT and THE CRAFT star women fighting against all odds.

This is commonly called the “final girls” trope. While these portrayals contain contentious depictions of female bonds, it’s important to note these stories laid the groundwork for directors like Julia Ducournau to build counter-narratives, whether intentional or not. That’s why RAW was such an utter shock and delight. It shows the complicated nature of sisterhood while discussing dark themes such as cannibalism and growing up.

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If you are a younger sister in a family dynamic, the first few moments of RAW might give you flashbacks to your past. When Justine begins the school’s ceremonial hazing, Alexia continually teases Justine for her seeming prude behavior. For example, during the second day of hazing, the upperclassmen force Justine to eat a rabbit’s kidney. When Justine refuses, citing her strict vegetarianism, Alexia lies and tells the fellow upperclassmen that Justine is not a vegetarian. Justine swallows the rabbit kidney, much to her chagrin.

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Raw rabbit kidney isn’t that tasty.

Seeing Sister Trials and Tribulations in RAW

Further, into the movie, Justine needs clothes for a tradition that calls for freshmen to wear club outfits all day. So, with no rule-abiding club wear, Justine pays Alexia a visit to her dorm room. They first bicker about the rabbit kidney incident, and Alexia insists she was “being nice,” and trying to help Justine out. Justine disagrees.

Alexia sifts through her closet, choosing clothes that Justine won’t “mess” up. Then, she gives Justine spare shoes and says “you’ll stretch them with your big feet.” Justine shrugs her away and complains that Alexia’s homework is too messy. “Take what you need and scram,” Alexia responds.

She pushes her to the door, but Justine pleads with Alexia to allow her to try on the clothes first. When Justine tries to hold Alexia’s hand for support as she puts on the shoes, Alexia pushes her hand away. Justine isn’t pleased with the outfit, but a pissed off Alexia has had enough. “You piss me off. See you,” and Alexia slams the door.

These moments seem like trivial sibling antics, but they mirror life. Again, you’ve probably fought with sisters over shared clothing, tussled over the most inconsequential things, did each other’s hair, or talked about fears during bedtime. RAW incorporates these real-life aspects into the film, reflecting the mundane of sisterhood. So, when consequential moments occur between the sisters, it speaks volumes to audiences.

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Siblings often uplift and disappoint.

Watching Sisters Unfold Before Our Bloody Eyes

For instance, Alexia records a video of a drunken Justine attempting to eat a corpse at a party located near the vet morgue. The video goes viral, which humiliates Justine. She later confronts her sister, and they fight while everyone watches. In this scene, you can feel the pain of hunger, humiliation, and love they both share. Despite their fight and subsequent other trials, they still manage to find a true value in their sibling love.

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Sibling love and hate is not perfect, nor should it be. Therefore, when movies like RAW reflect the messiness of such relationships, it pulls audiences into a world both familiar and unknown. That’s what horror is supposed to accomplish, and RAW draws this picture beautifully.

Julia Ducournau isn’t writing and directing a new film, yet. So, 2018 might not be a year filled with RAW horror movies on siblings and cannibals. However, that doesn’t mean we won’t see kickass women on screen. ANNIHILATION is already changing the conversation. These women aren’t related, but what they share is a sisterhood in surviving amidst turmoil. That’s what part of sister love is all about.

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