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New Review: Raze (2014)

Updated on June 5, 2014

Director: Josh C. Waller
Cast:
Zoë Bell, Rachel Nichols, Baily Anne Borders, Traci Thoms, Rebecca Marshall, Amy Johnston, Doug Jones, Sherilyn Fenn, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Thomas, Adrienne Wilkinson, Allene Quincy, Tiffany DeMarco


Raze takes place in an underground prison where the inmates are not necessarily harden criminals (not all of them, anyway), but innocent people who've been kidnapped and forced to fight each other to the death. If anyone refuses to fight, not only will they be killed, but so will their loved ones on the outside world (in their cells are video monitors showing their loved ones under surveillance). And when a fighter is killed, their loved ones are killed as well. The thing about this prison is that the guards are all men, while the inmates are all women, and each fight is recorded and displayed live for the entertainment of upper class individuals.

There are ingredients here for a movie that could be read as an allegory about the subjugation and exploitation of women, and the film's opening fight scene gets things off to a very strong start. One of the fighters is a veteran in the prison named Sabrina (Kiwi stunt woman Zoë Bell, who also serves as one of the producers for the movie), while the other is Jamie (Rachel Nichols, who serves as an executive producer), who was recently kidnapped and dumped into the arena. There is a particular pause during the fight where Jamie, bloodied and weak, realizes that she's about to die, and Nichols' performance is so pitiful and heartbreaking that it struck a cord with this viewer (even Sabrina is affected by it).

It's an effective opener for the movie. The fight scene is grueling and well-staged, the performances turned in by both Bell and Nichols are very good, and it gets an emotional response from the audience. If the rest of the movie were as strong as its opening, Raze might have been something special. But like the men who run the prison, the movie seems just a little too eager to watch these women savagely beat each other to death. Yes, some of the women are supplied with back stories, but they're not given nearly as much attention as the scenes where they're beaten to death, strangled to death, and have their eyeballs pushed in.

Yeah, I so DON'T want to be in a fighting ring with these women! O.O
Yeah, I so DON'T want to be in a fighting ring with these women! O.O

The heroine of the piece is actually Sabrina, and she's fighting to protect her teenage daughter, whom she gave up for adoption many years ago. In prison flicks like this, the protagonist will form both allies and enemies. In the case of the former, there's Cody (Bailey Anne Borders), an innocent young woman who just wants to get back home to her mother, and Theresa, who's played by Traci Thoms (who was in the movie Death Proof along with Zoë Bell). As for the latter, there's Phoebe (Rebecca Marshall), who has a mother on the outside she can't stand, and fights because, frankly, she loves to kill people. It's safe to assume that both Sabrina and Phoebe will end up in the ring together, and because the plot is as by-the-numbers as it is, we know it'll happen after Phoebe kills someone close to Sabrina.

The "games" are orchestrated by a sadistic husband and wife, played by Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn, in performances that seem to belong in another movie all together. The tone debut filmmaker Josh C. Waller establishes for the movie is dark and gritty, whereas Jones and Fenn are cartoonish and wildly over-the-top. We learn that these games have been going on for thousands of years, which raises several questions: How has this (obviously) illegal tournament been going on for so long? The inmates are kidnapped and brought to the prison. Is there no one on the outside looking for them? Are the cops not investigating? Have they been bought off?

Of course, one's not supposed to ask questions like that in a film like this. It's obvious that the movie was meant to be read as an allegory, but the movie seems more interested in the violence than in making whatever point it's trying to make. Given that they all take place in the same circular brick arena, and that all the fighters are dressed in the same white tank tops and gray jogging pants, it's amazing that the fight scenes never start to feel redundant or repetitive. The fight scenes all very well choreographed and directed, and the violence is at times so graphic that it's bound to make those with iron stomachs squirm in their seats.

There does, however, come a point where, after so many shots of women crying and calling out to their loved ones while someone bashes their face into a grisly pulp or strangles the life out of them, the movie takes on a sadistic and depressing note. Raze is not a fun movie to watch, and while that may be the point, it also doesn't leave the audience with much to think about either. This is not a badly made movie. For a debut feature, Waller shows a lot of skill (this guy has a promising future), and apart from Jones and Fenn, the acting is really quite good. Those looking for a well made exploitation movie will certainly get their money's worth here. Others might feel more than a little frustrated at the many compelling opportunities this movie passes by.


A hard R for extreme and savage violence, gore, and profanity

Final Grade: ** ½ (out of ****)

What did you think of this movie? :)

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