The Atlantic

Why Female Cannibals Frighten and Fascinate

The danger and appeal of the insatiable woman in Raw, Santa Clarita Diet, and The Lure
Source: Expensive / venusty888 / shutterstock / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

“Go on—eat it.” With these words, the 16-year-old vegetarian protagonist in Julia Ducournau’s Raw is urged to consume meat by her older sister and classmates at her new veterinary school. When Justine (Garance Marillier) refuses, her sister Alexia forces the meat into her mouth anyway, in a violent and bloody hazing ritual. The incident triggers within the pretty, shy, and brilliant student a sudden and overwhelming desire for flesh—namely, human flesh.

With the arrival of this stunning French drama, released in the U.S. last Friday, the strange archetype of the female cannibal seems to have entered the zeitgeist. Much like the leads in the new Netflix series Santa Clarita Diet and the 2015 Polish film The Lure, Justine is compelled by a hunger that’s both deviant and truly dangerous. In Santa Clarita Diet, Drew Barrymore plays a sweet suburban cannibal, and The Lure, like Raw a festival favorite, stars two young people-eating mermaids. (That both unusual foreign films garnered enough interest to secure U.S. releases this year is remarkable.)

Having spent the last five years studying the female cannibal (an admittedly odd subject even in academic circles), I’ve been fascinated by how the subject has gained more mainstream visibility of late. While the female cannibal isn

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic3 min readPolitics
What Happens When a Billionaire Swoops In to Solve the Student-Debt Crisis
A philanthropist surprised Morehouse College graduates at commencement by announcing he would pay off their student loans. But one person—even a very generous one—can only do so much.
The Atlantic4 min readPolitics
The Partisan Divide On How To Read The Intelligence On Iran
Adam Schiff lays out his worries on the intelligence, but the Trump administration is pushing back.
The Atlantic6 min readPolitics
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Self-Limiting Revolution
Knock Down the House set out to show an inspiring political movement—but instead revealed its boundaries.