Killer Women, by Rita Cannon
Josh C. Waller’s new film Raze has an admittedly sleazy-sounding premise: A group of fifty women are abducted by a secret society and forced to fight each other to the death. Spurred by concern for their loved ones – the society has their captives’ families under constant surveillance, and will kill them if the women refuse to fight or wind up losing – Sabrina (Zoë Bell, in her first leading role) and her fellow prisoners are left with no choice but to beat the shit out of each other in death match after death match, until only one is left standing. It’s pretty ridiculous. But it’s also thrilling, well-constructed, surprisingly emotional, and refreshingly non-exploitative from a gender standpoint.
The plot mechanics are a little murky. The exact motivations of Elizabeth (Sherilyn Fenn) and Joseph (friend of the show Doug Jones), the supervisors of the horrifying competition, are hinted at – apparently this has been happening for centuries, has something to do with ancient Greece, and is actually supposed to empower women or something? – but never fully revealed. That’s just as well, because the real attraction here is the fighting, which is pretty amazing. This will be no surprise to fans of Zoë Bell, whose background as a stunt performer makes her an especially commanding presence. She gives a great performance here, and not only because she can convincingly beat people up. The character of Sabrina carries a lot of emotional baggage, and Bell lets that baggage inform every moment of violence, not in a way that softens the fight sequences, but that makes them even more raw. A movie like this is nothing without a protagonist you can cheer for, and Bell’s Sabrina is eminently cheer-able.
Perhaps the film’s most admirable quality is its refusal to eroticize its female characters or the situation they’re in. When the women fight, they’re wearing tank tops and sweatpants (it’s easy to imagine a lesser film putting them in bikinis or something). There’s no nudity, no steamy shower scenes, no sexual harassment or leering from the male guards who watch over them between fights. The whole situation is presented much the same way as it would be if the characters were men. Of all the words you could use the describe Raze‘s spectacle of girl-on-girl violence, “hot” isn’t one them. Brutal, terrifying, athletic, sometimes even graceful, but not hot. It’s gloriously unsexy. The fights are choreographed and shot with clarity and flair, and never feel repetitive – especially impressive considering that most of them take place in the same minimalist location. The action only gets better once Sabrina makes a bid for escape and goes head to head with her captors. If you’re looking for a gritty, bloody, well-made action film that avoids the sexist pitfalls that sometimes come with the genre, Raze is definitely worth a look.