The horror genre has always presented ripe opportunities for inventive marketing - from the Grand Guignol Theatre, which kept a physician on-staff in order to treat any audience members who found its spectacles too terrifying to handle, to The Blair Witch Project's marketers handing out "Missing" leaflets for the stars of the film, maintaining that they were real people who had really disappeared.
As such, it's natural to be a little skeptical of the reports coming out of Toronto International Film Festival that multiple audience members attending a Midnight Madness screening of cannibal movie Raw had fainted in horror at what was happening on screen and needed to be taken away in an ambulance. Speaking to THR, the movie's marketing rep Ryan Werner stating that, "An ambulance had to be called to the scene as the film became too much for a couple patrons."
There's no doubt that paramedic did appear at the scene (as corroborated by multiple attendees), and that an ambulance did show up at the theater (as this photo shows). We contacted Toronto Paramedic Services, who confirm that some of their ambulances do still carry the "Toronto Emergency Medical Services" markings shown in that photo and the one below, despite the service's name being changed in 2014. However, Toronto Paramedic Services could not find any record of an ambulance being called out to Ryerson Theatre (where the screening took place) at the time when the incident is said to have occurred.
Of course, the fact that a record couldn't be found when we called by no means proves that this was a publicity stunt. The ambulance that did show up at the screening had markings that match the vehicles currently used by the emergency services, and while it's possible that the ambulance was a fake and both the audience members and the paramedics were actors, this seems like a pretty complicated and potentially expensive publicity stunt for such a small-scale movie. While modern audiences have become pretty desensitized to on-screen violence, it's not out of the question that a couple of moviegoers might have fainted at watching extreme cannibal gore. Maybe a bad hot dog was involved.
In any case, Raw is getting plenty of positive buzz that has nothing to do with the fainting reports. A Franco-Belgian production, Raw was written and directed by first-time feature director Julia Ducournau, and stars Garance Marillier as Justine, a veterinary student who develops a hunger for forbidden meat after undergoing a gruesome hazing ritual at vet school. The film scored rave reviews after it premiered at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and, according to THR, the fully-packed TIFF screening had "top agents and managers on hand jockeying for the attention of... Ducournau, who is currently unsigned."
It's still unclear whether Raw's fainting spells were part of the show or the real deal. If it was a publicity stunt, then it was certainly a deftly staged one. Ducournau hails from Paris, home of the Grand Guignol, where she studied at La Fémis film school, and Raw was co-produced by Paris-based production company Rouge International, so perhaps the TIFF spectacle was an homage to the traditions of French horror. Then again, maybe Raw's gore really is extreme enough to warrant a health warning.
Raw will also be screening at Fantastic Fest, Mayhem Film Festival, Celluloid Screams, Beyond Fest and the Sitges Film Festival. Focus Features is handling U.S. distribution, but the movie does not yet have a release date.