Raze falls into that peculiar category of movies that are extremely violent, but also extremely boring. In it, a bunch of attractive young women are forced into a kill-or-be-killed competition along the lines of Hunger Games or Battle Royale. Raze also uses elements of “Torture porn” movies like Saw and “Women In Prison” flicks to create a product where lots of pretty girls punch each other to death for the audience’s amusement.
The plot is about a group of 50 women who have been kidnaped by a secret society in order to participate in a violent ritual where they kill each other in one-on-one fistfights. Viewers never get a satisfactory explanation about the nature and goals of this organization, or anything of substance to explain the whys and hows of it all. The audience just has to accept that kidnapping large groups of women and forcing them to fight to the death is the sort of thing that Bad Guys can and will do.
The female combatants are all told that their loved ones on the outside will be assassinated unless the women agree to fight. Character development rarely goes beyond establishing each character’s name and who they’re fighting to protect. They’re mostly just expendable fodder who die off at the hands of five main characters.
Zoe Bell plays Sabrina, the protagonist. Fans of nerdy entertainment will recognize Zoe from her work in several Quentin Tarantino movies, as well as her work as a stuntwoman in action projects like Xena and Catwoman. Raze is clearly intended as a career vehicle to turn Ms. Bell into an action heroine, although her character is only marginally more defined than the rest of the cast. She’s the toughest of the group, and quickly develops a rivalry with a psychopath named Phoebe (Rebecca Marshall).
Phoebe is one of the four or five characters who could be considered The Bad Guy in the story. That’s on top of the fact that Sabrina is in a fight to the death with 48 other women too. This creates some clear pacing issues because the movie consists of an hour of nonstop fighting followed by several scenes that each feel like a climactic showdown. Each time it seems like Sabrina has won her freedom, yet she repeatedly finds herself in another epilogue - including a battle with a character introduced mere minutes before the film ends.
The bare-knuckles combat is the focus of the movie but the fight scenes are indistinguishable and repetitive. Despite the notion that these women have been recruiting for their fighting expertise, they rarely show any sort of distinct individual fighting styles. They’re all unarmed and every fight takes place in the same dirt-floored pit. Basically, every fight boils down to two women punching each other in front of the same brick wall.
Compounding the trouble is that they are all dressed in the same drab uniform, and many of the cast members have long blond hair. It’s easy to lose track of who is who, especially when the editors use montages to depict multiple fights and the action turns into a blur of interchangeable bodies brawling in the dirt. Given that these fights are part of some centuries-old ritual that dates back to the ancient Greeks it seems perfectly plausible that the cultists would have several different pits at their disposal just to add a little spice to their bloodsport.
The film does try to inject some drama into the crevices between fights. Sabrina dreams about the daughter she’s fighting to protect, and there are hints about her tragic past and inner turmoil. Meanwhile a couple of the supporting characters have a maudlin scene where they befriend each other and subsequently try to avoid their inevitable deathmatch.
Given that the movie is an unabashed exploitation flick, these scenes fail to create any pathos for characters that have been put into such a preposterous situation. Ultimately Raze has to rely on its violence and its nubile cast, rather than storytelling. It might appeal to a subculture of exploitation film enthusiasts who like watching pretty girl hurt each other, but it doesn’t succeed as either an interesting story or a simple action film. Raze releases in theaters January 10th 2014.