Raze: Tribeca Review
Stuntwoman Zoe Bell leads a cast of women playing unwilling gladiators in Josh Waller's nasty debut.
NEW YORK — A women-in-prison flick hawking its exploitation wares more to sadists than sex fiends, Josh Waller's Raze throws fifty women into a mysterious bloodsport tourney and leers as they beat each other to death. Built around a lead performance by Tarantino-favored stuntwoman Zoe Bell and featuring fanboy-bait actors in supporting roles, the picture's stripped-down brutality may connect with some genre diehards; others will leave the theater wanting to volunteer at a battered-women's shelter as penance for contributing to the pic's box office receipts.
Bell plays Sabrina, who was abducted and imprisoned by a mysterious group using Greek myths about ferocious females called maenads as an excuse to force innocent women to kill each other: Having evidently targeted women with some background in martial arts (funny how many judo champs are sexy blondes), they have threatened to kill each prisoner's loved ones if she refuses to fight, or if she dies in battle.
The cast of prisoners includes a variety of thinly constructed characters, from the sweet-seeming girl fighting to keep her mother safe and the basket-case simpering in the corner to Phoebe (Rebecca Marshall), a swaggering braggart who, alone in this group, welcomes the chance to kill. (If the word "overacting" has any meaning in a production this ludicrously pulpy, Marshall's performance demands it.)
The screenplay wastes little time between action sequences -- desperate scenes of women crying "I don't want to fight!" stand as weak argument against the desires of the male screenwriters and director who very much want to see them in the ring. Battles are sickeningly brutal, and viewers who have no ethical problem with that may object to their sheer lack of imagination: The filmmakers can think of nothing more exciting than to have one woman straddle her prone opponent, pummeling her face with fists over and over and over until the skull is a broken shell.
Bell doesn't display the necessary charisma to bring grindhouse verve to this dispiriting production; and though the actors playing her captors (Guillermo del Toro fave Doug Jones and Twin Peaks star Sherilyn Fenn among them) try their best to make its creepy ritualistic premise believable, the screenplay gives them too little to work with. Perhaps the most galling thing about Raze is its opening title card, which cites statistics about the number of women who go missing in any given year -- the co-opting of real-world suffering making it that much harder to go along with Waller's idea of it's-only-a-midnight-movie kicks.
Production Company: Cinipix
Cast: Zoe Bell, Rachel Nichols, Tracie Thoms, Rebecca Marshall, Bailey Borders, Allene Quincy, Adrienne Wilkinson, Bruce Thomas, Doug Jones, Sherilyn Fenn
Director: Josh Waller
Screenwriter: Robert Beaucage
Producers: Zoe Bell, Kenny Gage, Andy Pagana, Josh Waller
Executive producers: Allene Quincy, Rachel Nichols, Bill Ceresia, Mathew Hayden
Director of photography: Dylan S. OBrien
Production designer: Robert Howeth
Music: Frank Riggio
Costume designer: Rachel Burt
Editor: Brett W. Bachman
Sales: Nate Bolotin, XYZ Films
No rating, 91 minutes