Directed by Josh C. Waller
Written by Robert Beaucage
Starring Zoe Bell, Rachel Nichols, Rebecca Marshall, Tracie Thoms, Doug Jones, Sherilyn Fenn
Unrated | 87 minutes
Release Date: January 10, 2014
After a night on the town on a first date, Jamie (Rachel Nichols) is abducted and finds herself in an underground prison where she meets Sabrina (Zoe Bell) and learns all too quickly what the situation is: she has been kidnapped to fight in a bare-knuckle to-the-death combat tournament for the sport of an elite secret society. If you don’t fight or if you lose the match, you die and one of your family members will be killed as well. Win the match, and they live to see another day.
Sabrina, along with several cell mates in the same situation, try desperately to come up with a plan to escape, but with the guards patrolling, cameras watching their every move, and a combatant that can’t wait for her next challenge, the only way out will be through brute force. Before the elimination is over, friendships will be tested, rivalries will be settled, and the ground will be soaked in blood.
Meeting somewhere in the trifecta of Bloodsport, Hostel, and your pick of a women-in-prison movie, director Josh C. Waller makes his feature-length debut with the grueling ode to exploitation cinema, Raze. The film is absolutely relentless and hardly lets up for a moment with the action and trauma inflicted upon its host of hapless characters, with fighting pausing just a brief moment for some emoting, providing just enough plot to string everything together.
Stuntwoman Zoe Bell, who grew to prominence as Uma Thurman’s stunt double in Kill Bill and has dabbled with acting including playing herself in Death Proof, takes the lead here and shows she has some acting chops. Bell provides a very watchable character trying to save both her daughter and her unlikely friends, whose desperation grows as the film progresses. Her fight sequences are absolutely brutal to watch, as Bell’s professional background gives her plenty to work with in the battle arena.
Indeed all the fight sequences, which are the shameless highlight of these feature, are great to watch. There is a raw savagery and desperation to each fight, and just enough exposition on the characters to give them some training backgrounds in order to give the fight choreography something to work with. Waller directs the fight sequences quite well, and you can always tell what is happening where. Additionally, each fight is introduced with a “versus” title card, which adds some additional tension and adrenaline as the viewer comes to know the characters.
Outside of Bell getting some camera face time, Raze features another face often not seen outside of heavy prosthetics, Doug Jones. Jones is best known for his roles in Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth, and here gets to chew up some great scenery and dialogue as the coordinator of the tournament’s elite secret society. Additionally, Rebecca Marshall gives a fun, psychopathic performance as the only woman looking for her next fight, and relishes in the meat grinder she’s been thrown into.
Raze is a great addition to the modern midnight movie moniker (if such a time limitation on movie viewing was still relevant) and proudly stands up and succeeds at exactly what it set out to do. It is 90 minutes of visceral brutality sewn together with a threadbare and ominous plot. It will be released via IFC Midnight simultaneously in a limited theatrical run and on VOD on January 10, 2014.