June 25th 2014 03:52
A brutal, no-holds barred dive into an arena of death in which women battle one another with only their fists and survival instincts, Raze (2013) is not for the faint-hearted. Unashamedly exploitative and B-grade, Josh C. Waller’s film will either be perceived as hateful, misogynistic fare or an allegory for female empowerment. The central figure of this bloody drama is Sabrina, played with relish by Zoe Bell, the stuntwoman and occasional actress best known for her work on Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007). It’s Sabrina journey through the round robin stages of combat as the ranks of contenders are whittled away to a pulverised two that commands our attention. Bell’s emoting is limited but her lack of inhibition and strong physical presence make up for these deficiencies. Waller and his co-writer Robert Beaucage immediately drop us into his nightmarish scenario with Jamie (Rachel Nichols) as she wakes to find herself prone in a blank corridor. Soon, her opponent enters; she grasps for a perceived ally but of course, she’ll need to kill to survive thanks to the whims of a puppetmaster, Joseph (Doug Jones) and his equally twisted wife, Elizabeth (Sherilyn Fenn), a former winner of their yearly contest. A handful of retrospective snatches relate the ways in which the chief protagonists were snatched from their real lives, but Waller’s chief arm is to create carnage without a repertoire of weaponry or computer assistance. Raze is resolutely old-school and even if the dialogue is generally underwhelmingly bland and hardly insightful, the rawness of his premise is fully realised thanks to some willing participants, especially Bell as the credible, ruthless Sabrina. Composer Frank Riggio‘s low-budget score is another shrewdly utilised element, his contributions often ramping up the drama to invest moments of wordless, brutal contemplation an unlikely, near Tarantino-esque sense of ‘cool’. Though it’ll never win mainstream critical plaudits, Raze is at least a memorably original guilty-pleasure contender - not to mention a propulsive, visceral throwback to a more uncompromising form of storytelling that’s all too rare these days.