A lot of critics have derided Raze for being similar to a Roger Corman ‘women in prison’ kind of movie, only without any sex, lesbianism, nudity, etc. Looking at it this way, it’s easy to see the movie as a dirge, as it delivers its premise – 50 women beating each other to death – without any kind of exploitative appeal, and especially without pandering to boner-at-the-ready male audiences. But this refusal to do so is the main reason I like Raze, because it makes a point of being unpleasant, by which it slyly says “Yeah, well, be careful what you wish for.”
It’s like Saw meets Battle Royale, so there is little originality to Raze‘s basic outline, apart from the fact that it stars only women in its action roles and offers no real reason behind its oppressor’s actions, other than “We’re rich and we’re bored.” Far from making a comment on the class structure, what we’re interested in instead is how Raze treats its females, which is surprisingly well, if not by the characters within the film.
The cast, all dressed in a uniform of white vest and grey tracksuit, are relieved of sexuality and aesthetic nuance, their survival determined not by their virtue (as in a lot of films like this) but by their sheer energy and physical strength. The pressure for brutality is a substitute for the pressure to be attractive that we see impinged on women every day. More importantly, however, is how much we empathise with the characters, even if said empathy is practically forced upon us – it steers the fight sequences away from any kind of glamour whatsoever.
Instead of stylish, well-choreographed battle scenes like the ones we see in The Raid (which is also 90 minutes of people getting punched in the face), we’re subjected to the sounds of skin and bone being smashed constantly, and there are several shocking moments where I couldn’t help but recoil. For instance, by the 15 minute mark, we’ve already seen a woman’s arm get snapped so violently it’s nearly torn out of its socket, and subsequently her skull getting mashed into a red paste by another character’s bare fists.
The film loses its way slightly around the mid-point, where it becomes more interested in creating a cool narrative than furthering its thematic explorations. It sort of fizzles into chaos, yet out of this comes a well-positioned fight between two friends, arriving in the quiet, post-climax aftershock for optimum effect. Aside from this, the incredible editing and adept framing, Raze‘s tension-building techniques are rote, yet somehow they all work, almost operating as a guilty pleasure for the viewer. And despite the adverse reaction you’ll inevitably have towards the movie’s consistently gruelling violence – the reason a lot of people dislike the movie – it makes the whole thing much more gripping and involving, right up until its dogshit ending.
Oh – and Zoe Bell, the Kiwi ex-stuntwoman who found fame in Tarantino’s Death Proof takes the lead, and she’s ace.
Raze was directed by Josh C. Waller, written by Robert Beaucage, Kenny Gage and Josh C. Waller, and stars Zoe Bell, Rachel Nichols and Tracie Thoms. It lasts for 87 minutes, and is a production of Cinipix, Cosmic Toast Studios and Quincy Pictures. Distributed in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray by Koch Media. Originally released in 2014.