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When It Comes to Raw, Focus World Sees Red: On Red Band vs. Green Band Trailers

Raw

“Aberrant behavior, bloody and grisly images, strong sexuality, nudity, language and drug use/partying.” So reads the information box on the R rating for Raw, Julia Ducournau’s tasty little horror film about a vegan who becomes a cannibal. Explicit films (gross-out horror flicks, bawdy comedies, sexy dramas) always face the same marketing challenge: how do you show the best parts of a movie when those moments might be too graphic?

In the case of Raw, Focus World gave the movie two trailers: a mainstream gothic green-band trailer and a frenetically disturbing red-band trailer. Ironically, the two share a lot of the same footage. But the energy and the structure of the latter is unmistakably more intense. It’s a great example of how two pieces of advertising can give the same film a strikingly different feel.

Distributors and studios have always had self-imposed limits on what they reveal in their advertising (and many exhibitors have guidelines based on these limits). Starting in the 1980s, the Motion Picture Association of America, the voluntary Hollywood organization created by the studios to regulate and limit what goes into theatrical trailers and TV spots, offered a solution. If you wanted your trailer to play in front of all moviegoing audiences, then you had to curtail extreme content to earn the coveted “green-band” card that preceded most ads. But, if you were aching to get more outré and use R-rated imagery and language, then the MPAA would give you a “red-band” card that restricted placement — which meant your trailer only appeared before R-rated movies.

In the pre-broadband internet era, a red-band designation was effectively the kiss of death for any distributor who wanted widespread attention. Back then, the only places people saw trailers were in movie theaters. So the red-band trailer was a unicorn sighting, a novelty with light rotation that made barely a blip in pop culture.

Over the past ten years, though, especially as high-speed wifi and cellular connections enable increasingly effortless streaming while the internet encourages a feed-the-beast mentality that thirsts for every last scrap of shareable content, the red-band trailer has shed its niche status. Now, red-band is edgy and cool. Red-band is another instrument in the marketing toolbox. It can deepen a niche audience instead of settling for a superficial wide one. And, since the MPAA cannot censor the internet, red-bands are ubiquitous (although some websites half-heartedly require the viewer to type in their date of birth as a weak way to enforce a minimum age requirement).

Studios love the red-band trailer now. It’s been normalized and folded into mainstream marketing campaigns for hard-R entertainment. And, more importantly, it’s also allowed specialty distributors to get more bang for their buck. Ergo, Focus World’s approach to Raw.

But what’s notable here is that Focus World’s two trailers have decidedly unique DNA. This isn’t a case of the distributor taking the green-band trailer and just adding a few dirty bits to make it red-band (or taking a red-band and sanitizing it to pass muster as a green-band). Not only are the music cues different, but also the graphic cards and the quotes. Even the title treatments don’t match. Both the red-band and the green-band feel like they were designed and structured independent of each other.

The green-band, at 1:18, is shorter. It starts with a solo guitar plucking out a melancholic melody as we see images of a teenage girl who, after a long drive, is dropped off at a desolate parking lot by her loving parents. Then, after a laurel card filled with thin, white type, we see shots of her at college — in a lecture hall, at the cafeteria, in the library stealing a glance at the cute boy next to her — as well as shots of her staring at the boy playing soccer. The next card is a quote calling the film “an emotionally-driven coming-of-age movie,” followed by a bunch of shots where she and her classmates are being hazed.

So far, so normal: this is your typical story of a young co-ed experiencing her first year away from home.

But then the music changes, the students are wearing lab coats doused in red dye, and suddenly the girl is being forced to eat from a large jar full of animal livers. She quickly vomits, and the music switches into high gear, amping up the quotes (“Masterful…Intelligent…Visceral”) and the imagery (she drunkenly kisses someone at a party, she screams in bed, she sniffs an uncooked chicken breast in the fridge and then wanders in the hallway). After a quote about the film being “disturbingly erotic,” we see the girl sway in front of a mirror and then kiss her reflection.

The imagery turns surreal – two bodies covered in primary-colored paints, a car crash, hordes of people walking on their fours, the girl with her head turned down looking up eerily as she gets a nosebleed. And then the last image: the girl is biting down on her own arm, blood dripping down from the wound, as we hear a sigh of pleasure from her. The ending is a strong and unsettling finish to what began as an almost innocent look at a teenager’s coming of age — and a prime example of a distributor making a fringe foreign film look more accessible to a broader audience.

The red-band trailer makes no similar claim. Running at a much longer 1:49, it’s going for the jugular, and it wants you to squirm. The music reflects this single-mindedness, too, since the only cue is These Hidden Hands’ “These Moments Dismantled,” a feverish bit of dark electronica that starts soft and builds in intensity with bursts of spiky percussion.

The trailer also embraces a key aspect of the film’s imagery: animals. (The green-band trailer makes no mention of the fact that the college is for veterinary medicine.) So, after a cryptic cold open where a young woman on a quiet country road causes a car to crash into a tree, we get surreal shots of a cow on a table in a lecture hall; a tranquilized horse getting its mouth pried open with a vise; and a roomful of cattle on gurneys about to be dissected. The effect is disorienting, and climaxes when the freshman class is drenched in animal blood.

At that point, the two trailers fall into sync, with the liver-eating sequence shown in almost the exact same way. But there’s one sharp difference: in the red-band trailer, when the girl vomits, the moment is followed by an additional shot that reveals a fellow student smiling as she watches her puke. (Yikes!)

The next section of the trailer shows the girl furiously scratching rashes on her arm and pelvis, then freaking out in bed, which leads into the graphic card announcing the director’s name; and then a haunting shot of the girl walking down an eerily lit hallway is followed by the laurel card. The implication: the director’s reputation and the film’s acclaim is based on body-horror tropes and a hyper-stylized visual production. We are definitely not in general-audience green-band territory.

The best part of the trailer happens now: after showing the girl ogle a shirtless boy playing soccer, the sequence then flutter-cuts shots of her smelling and biting into that rare chicken breast. Instead of using shots of her literally eating human flesh, the trailer very strongly yet artfully suggests it.

The next sequence uses a few shots from the green-band trailer of the girl kissing her reflection and being sexually assertive at a party — but it now brings back the flutter-cutting again, this time to parallel her unleashed animalistic desire with shots of a horse running on a treadmill.

The last leg of the trailer really jacks up the creep factor (an old man laughing, shots of the girl looking haggard flutter-cut with shots of embalmed animal fetuses, the girl licking blood off her hand) while graphic cards with one-word critic quotes are interspersed throughout.

And right after we see a big pair of open scissors between the girl’s legs, plus quick shots of dead skin being peeled off her body, there’s one last quote: “A deliciously fevered stew of nightmare fuel.” That nightmare climaxes with a savage coital montage ending on that shot of the girl biting her arm and drawing blood. But no moan of pleasure for her — it’s as though the red-band doesn’t want to give the girl any sense of satisfaction.

Both Raw trailers are very effective, but in different ways for different purposes. The one common element they do share, though, is the fact that no dialogue is used. No dialogue, no subtitles. And, therefore, no one will know it’s a foreign language film. What a pity (and how very sobering) to think that, despite all the jolting aspects of this horror film, Focus World believes that the French language is what will really scare away viewers.

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