Since I used to co-write a blog exclusively about women kicking ass in action films, I could NOT miss seeing Raze.
It stars Zoe Bell, who has stunt doubled The Bride in the Kill Bill series, and Xena for that show’s entire run, as well as appearing in Grindhouse. (For more about her career and being a stuntwoman in general, I recommend Double Dare.) It also stars Rachel Nichols, who was Scarlett in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, so she’s a familiar face for me.
It also stars almost two dozen other badass women, since it’s about women being kidnapped and forced to fight each other to the death with their bare hands. So, sad but true, this film possibly doubled or tripled the number of action roles for women in 2013, when it was first released at film festivals.
I was nervous about watching it, though, because all of the reviews talked about how grisly it is, and that’s not my cup of tea. But we fired up the ITunes store, rather than waiting two weeks to drive three hours and see it in Houston. TO BE COMPLETELY CLEAR, Raze is NOT AN ACTION MOVIE! It’s a horror movie, working the “women in prison” subgenre, but making it serious. It was horribly, horribly sad to watch human beings beating each other to death. The film clearly does not intend for you to think it’s exciting or cool or anything but tragic. And there is a LOT of blood, and close ups of women’s faces as they are strangled, and one eye gouging which exceeded the film’s general grossness substantially. I did look away several times near the end of various fights because, yuck, no one needs to see that. It was not as bad as I thought for close-ups or gore but it’s not “fantasy violence.”
Going along with that reality vibe, though it’s a “women in prison” genre film, it does not make any of this sexy. In fact, you could just about swap men into the women’s roles, though there would probably be a little less crying and you’d have to slightly edit the Bad Guys’ “motivations” for staging the combat. (I don’t think the crying was wrong and I think the guy version of the film would be more realistic if there was crying, I just don’t think anyone would write the script that way and get it made with that intact.) I don’t think every role should be swappable like this to avoid sexism, but when it can be done, that’s often a good sign that there isn’t much gender exploitation going on.
The film’s cast of fighters is also pretty diverse, though only 1 out of 5 of the fighting characters with substantial speaking parts is a woman of color: Tracie Thoms.
She’s the only one to give her life to save a fellow prisoner, though, which made me kind of sad. Why must the woman of color always be doomed?
Also, since we’re in a spoiler section, WTF with all the prisoners believing that a super-powerful secret organization that abducts 50 women a year and has them murder each other because of an obsession with a Greek myth, and also murders most of their loved ones, would actually keep its promise and NOT murder their loved ones if they fought and won. How would this happen?! Are they drugged to be suggestible? I realize the film’s plot collapses if they don’t fall for it and decide they have to fight, but my suspension of disbelief had a hard time with that.
[END OF SPOILERS]
I wouldn’t call it a great film, but it’s solid. It competently carried out what it intended to do. I always enjoy seeing Zoe Bell’s work. Rachel Nichols’ character talked too much, though as I thought more about it after I initially published this review, this film does prove the gal can act because she was a TOTALLY different person here, including body language. I would love to see Tracie Thoms in something else, since her final scene was the most interesting part of the movie and it was her performance that sold it.
What I found really interesting was critics’ reactions. Unlike with a film about men fighting, there is no way to make this film without gender being an issue. There’s just too much in our culture about women, and violence towards women, for it to be divorced from that context. So you have people who are super excited about seeing strong women in action roles. You have people who are super excited about that, but not happy unless the film also makes a Big Feminist Statement. You have people who feel deeply, and I can understand why, that watching a procession of women get beaten to death can’t avoid being misogynistic in our culture. Or this film doesn’t wrap enough narrative around the procession to be anything different than torture porn.
To me, the violence isn’t the usual “let’s abuse women as shorthand for a point we’re trying to make” lazy screenwriting, so I think it’s possible to view it in a non-sexist way… if you have deep respect for the women working in the film, and women in general. Sadly, there will be some people who find these images pleasant instead of disturbing, and it was hard to keep that thought out of my head during the film.
I don’t blame the film for that, though. I blame the culture. But I don’t blame anyone who would reject the film over it.
My recommendation? See it if you have a strong stomach for violence and want to drastically increase your exposure to depictions of strong fighting women. They’re often pretty hard to come by so having more of them is arguably a Good Thing.
DO NOT see it if you’re going to be grossed out by lots of blood and watching people suffocating, if you’re disinterested in watching a lot of women get badly hurt and killed, and/or if you don’t need something relentlessly hopeless and depressing in your media intake.
On the Heroine Content scale, I’d give it 3 Stars, as a Strong Contender.