“RAZE” (Movie Review)
How does one, as a storyteller, approach a film about women fighting to the death in a grisly secret tournament without risking accusations of misogyny? Without much grey area in the moral spectrum, one could approach the project exploitatively, harking back to the era of women-in-prison films or the ‘80s’ antiheroine actioners. Otherwise, one could attempt to focus on the characters, making an introspective study on morality and gender subversion while using extreme visuals to help prove the hypothesis.
Not necessarily fitting into either category, the unfocused RAZE is a curious beast of its own design, stuck between the necessity of the genre it inhabits and the messages it tries to preach. The film is brutal in its content and impressive in its fight choreography, but its attempts to be a character drama about the lengths women will go to protect themselves and their kin never hit their target. RAZE definitely feels more interesting than your standard cleavage-and-killing femmesploitation film, but even its unique and weird factors never quite give it the weight it seeks.
Technically, the film is well put together, even if the script from Robert Beaucage never lives up to the promise of the established visual intrigue. Josh C. Waller does a commendable job directing, especially in building tension even when the proceedings become fairly predictable. With a tighter focus on the film’s characters and the world they live in, the movie could have been much more surreal and fascinating, but instead descends into pedestrian drama cushioned by exceptional action sequences. Aided by cinematographer Dylan O’Brien and fight choreographer Kenny Gage, RAZE fires on all cylinders when the brawls kick in, often bouncing between jaw-dropping spectacle and hard-to-watch gruesomeness.
RAZE’s cast is also a mixed bag, some providing captivating and genuinely affecting performances while others mug a little too hard to stand out. Star/producer Zoë Bell is the film’s anchor, and her investment in her role is quite apparent, giving the film the closest thing it has to a hero. Tracie Thoms, Bailey Anne Borders, Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn all provide solid turns, and are often the center of gripping or fascinating moments. Meanwhile, Rebecca Marshall, Allene Quincy (also serving as an executive producer) and Bruce Thomas make mystifying choices that border on overacting most of the time. Horror fans will find a few nice surprises in a series of odd cameos from familiar genre faces as well.
Overall, RAZE had much potential to break past gender barriers and create a truly unique fight film, but the unfocused story and underwhelming predictability keeps it from becoming either a riveting drama or bone-shattering entertainment. It’s still watchable and has a number of admirable, singular elements, and it deserves credit for not being a sexist excuse to shove women into tank tops and have them rip each other’s clothes off. Nonetheless, one can assume that RAZE will be a divisive movie, as there’s an inherent appeal to a film that’s tough to stomach and somewhat bizarre in nature, but whether it’s worth watching for the entire running time is a different question altogether. One can hope Waller will capitalize on his promising eye and voice in his next film, and hopefully focus on the personal drama at hand rather than spinning multiple plates between a weird mythological backstory and piled-upon subplots.