Review: Raze (Fantasia)

PLOT: Several women are abducted, only to awaken in an underground prison where they're forced to fight each other one-on-one to the death. If they lose, not only will they be killed, but their families will be murdered.

REVIEW: RAZE is like a sci-fi spin on the old “women-in-prison” genre, which in it's heyday made producers like Roger Corman fabulously wealthy. But, director Josh C. Waller clearly has loftier aspiration than your standard exploitation flick, with RAZE being directed in a grim, heavy way that commands your attention, and demands to be taken seriously, women-in-prison flick or not.

As such, Waller's film is a bit of a mixed bag. It's chief strength is the presence of uber-stuntwoman Zoe Bell in the lead. Bell pops up everywhere, from Tarantino movies to the recent OBLIVION. Other than QT's DEATH PROOF, she usually ends up in tiny, menacing roles, but RAZE is her debut as a full-on action star. If anything deserves to come out of RAZE, it should be that people wake up to the fact that Bell is one of the most promising action stars to emerge in a long time.

Bell plays our protagonist, an ex-military P.O.W, who awakens in this prison, only to be told that if she doesn't kill all the women she's pitted against, the daughter she gave up for adoption fifteen years ago will be murdered. Bell has no choice but to fight, and her brawls are savage. Most of the women in RAZE seem to have some kind of fighting ability, ranging from Rachel Nichols (the recent CONAN remake) who's a convincing kickboxer, to Bell's scene-stealing pal from DEATH PROOF, Tracie Thoms, who seems to have some real skills as a boxer (although it could all just be good choreography).

As good as Bell, and her fellow inmates are- both physically and otherwise- RAZE is not without it's issues. For one, in an attempt to be taken seriously, Waller's film is so grim that it often comes off as a tad pretentious (to the point that one of the bad guards is named Kurtz). I supposed Waller is trying to avoid being exploitative, but in an effort to make the fights realistic, they're shot and cut in a chaotic way that all but ruins the choreography, which looks really solid. Another big problem is that the brawls are mostly confined to one, dark room, not only making them hard to decipher, but also stale visually. A fight scene set in an elevator, and lit with red emergency lights is a notable exception, and feels refreshing compared to the rest of the film.

But, while undeniably heavy-handed, RAZE mostly works thanks to Bell, and a decent premise. The underground society run by chief baddies Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn is never really explained too well, n and either is the ultimate point of the competition. But, having the women not only have to fight for themselves, but also for their families is a smart twist, and makes you root for all the women even thought most of them are obviously doomed right from the start. It's not perfect, but RAZE is certainly a decent watch, and hopefully this is just the beginning for Zoe Bell as an action heroine. She's definitely got the goods.



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