Editor’s Note: A previous version of this post stated that a marketer for Raw named Ryan Werner confirmed that several faintings at a TIFF screening of the film were staged. It turns out Jezebel reached out, in error, to the wrong Ryan Werner, and he did not correct us. We’ve contacted the Ryan Werner we believe actually worked on marketing for Raw and will update this story accordingly. Jezebel regrets the error.
On Tuesday, reports surfaced that an ambulance was reportedly called to a theater at the Toronto Film Festival after two people allegedly fainted in the middle of a screening of the cannibal movie Raw early that morning. The film was apparently so gruesome that the moviegoers couldn’t handle it.
The plot for Raw, which one Jezebel staffer delicately described as “a Cannibal Holocaust,” tells the story of a 16-year-old who falls into cannibalism after she eats rabbit liver as part of a hazing incident in veterinarian school. The Hollywood Reporter’s write-up about the fainting incident describes the French film, directed by newcomer Julia Ducournau, as “graphic” and “a must-see for horror fans.” The THR report also quotes Ryan Werner,
a brand strategist at the marketing company Curalate marketing publicity. “An ambulance had to be called to the scene as the film became too much for a couple patrons,” Werner told THR.
Other sites posted headlines like “Cannibal horror film too Raw for viewers as paramedics are called” (The Guardian). In an interview with Indie Wire, the director noted that the prior response when the film was screened at Cannes included: “Laughter, feelings of uneasiness, scared, crying, some people leaving the room, of course. It was very responsive. I am very happy about that.”
Screen Rant—which notes the fact that bizarre marketing incidents are typical for horror films—investigated a bit and found there was no record of an ambulance being called to the theater where the screening was held:
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.
Screen Rant also wrote:
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.
I also contacted Toronto Paramedic Services to confirm but they didn’t immediately respond. When I emailed TIFF for comment, a representative responded with a statement to Jezebel:
Incidents like this sometimes happen at TIFF screenings. The safety and security of all our patrons and guests is a priority for TIFF and any situation where an audience member is feeling unwell is handled with care and due professionalism by our venue teams. We can confirm two patrons did feel unwell during the screening of RAW on Monday night, one of which required the assistance of the emergency services.
I asked the rep whether TIFF was aware if the incident was a possible marketing ploy and the rep avoided the question and stated: “We organize screenings in the best possible conditions as you know. That’s our goal for the attendees.” When I rephrased the question for clarity (“Is there a possibility the movie makers could have set this up without your knowledge to promote the movie”?), the rep wrote back: “We work with industry professionals with trust and professionalism. How could it be different when you organize a film festival?”
Update (5:25 p.m.): A publicity rep on behalf of the film confirmed that it was not a staged event and “unfortunately two individuals were unwell after the screening.”