I’m as big an action movie fan as I am a horror nut, so these “fight to the death” type genre films are admittedly one of my guilty pleasures. Josh C. Waller’s Raze follows in the footsteps of so many films that show captured prisoners being forced into some type of savage competition, so I looked towards the choreographed fighting for an invigorating jolt of energy. I mean, c’mon guys, who doesn’t love a good chick fight, am I right?! Ugh, yeah, there’s nothing comparable to foxy boxing here, which I found out during the very first brawl. There’s a reason Zoe Bell is one of the most respected female stuntwoman in Hollywood, as she dispatches foes one by one – but without a seriously effective social commentary, the brutally unapologetic violence never becomes more than surface value depravity.
In a world where women go missing everyday, Raze shows us where a small chunk of those women end up fighting for their lives. Sabrina (Zoe Bell) is one of those women, finding herself imprisoned and forced to fight for her life in a deathmatch, tournament style contest. Without knowing who is behind the kidnapping and why each fighter was chosen, the girls are sent out two at a time – but only one returns. Declining to fight isn’t an option either, as the society threatens to kill the fighter’s loved ones if they refuse to fight. With the winner receiving her freedom and a “new lease on life,” Sabrina fights on – but does she have what it takes to be the last woman standing?
Grabbing Zoe Bell (Death Proof/Django Unchained) to play Sabrina benefited Waller’s production in more ways than one, as Bell’s ass-kicking ways not only elevated Sabrina’s fight scenes, but enhanced Raze‘s action scoring in general. Bell’s expertise can be seen through every single throwdown, as the exchanges are kept relatively fresh and exciting. Considering the women all wore the same attire and fought in a dull, dirty pit, there wasn’t a lot of room for creativity except for the fight choreography. The stunt team should be thanked for mixing up finishing moves and styles, as each fighter had a style unlike their opponent, and the women weren’t simply just throwing wild punches. There was some legit MMA style grappling and bone-crunching haymakers thrown with a mixture of kicks, choke-outs, wall-bashings, and just about every other finishing move possible. Every fight brought a certain intensity and graphic brutality that projected raw, carnal instincts setting in, usually punctuated with a bloody exclamation point.
Along for the ride are a few familiar faces in Rachel Nichols (GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra), Tracie Thoms (Looper), and Rebecca Marshall (Saw 3D), but a face you might not recognize is ringleader Doug Jones – better known for costumed performances like Hellboy‘s Abe Sapien or Fauno in Pan’s Labyrinth. He’s been able to bring life to prosthetic characters over and over again, but even when stripped of all visual disguises, Jones is a convincingly deranged, sophisticated psychopath. His character Joseph isn’t groundbreaking in any sense, as we’ve seen villainous captors torture others because of their own skewed beliefs, but Jones had a sinister charisma about himself that proves he doesn’t have to hide behind heavy layers of makeup for audiences to feel what an impact this character actor makes.
Even though the female combatants fight with a flurry of different attacks, the brutally unforgiving violence does become repetitive. There are moments when a fight is assuredly over, yet the victor just continues pummeling her tapped competitor, as we hear each excruciating thud created by a fist coming down against the pulpy remains of a woman’s face – like Rocky pulverizing a hunk of meat. With the cookie-cutter nature of Raze‘s story, this makes overly gratuitous moments hard to watch, as the violence doesn’t jolt any emotional reaction.
Without a big-picture message worth all the blood-stains and broken limbs, Raze is simply a more disgusting, more deadly, female oriented Fight Club knock-off. There’s supposed to be some grand revelation about rising from the ashes as a new person, and the lessons enduring painstaking hardships can instill (much like a film I caught earlier this year, Would You Rather), but they’re lost amidst the copious amounts of sleekly crafted anarchy. If you can’t stomach Sabrina’s opening fight, I’d suggest you strap in – that’s just the misty red tip of this chaotic iceberg.
Raze is a bloody, brutal fight to the death, and sports a perfect role for lead actress Zoe Bell, but lacks the necessary story to balance such vulgar on-screen actions.