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STUDIO MPI Home Video
RUNNING TIME 95 minutes
• Featurettes: Behind the Scenes, The Fights
• Extended Fights
• Deletes Scenes with Optional Commentary
• Short Film
• Alternate Posters
It’s like The Hunger Games meets Caged Heat, but without the fun.
Zoë Bell, Tracie Thoms, Doug Jones, Sherilyn Fenn, Rachel Nichols, Rosario Dawson
After she is drugged and abducted, Jamie (Rachel Nichols) awakens to find herself in a concrete bunker where she meets fellow abductee Sabrina (Zoë Bell). Before long the two women discover that they are in a modern-day coliseum, where they and 48 other women have been selected to fight to the death in order to save both themselves and their loved ones.
If one were to only consider the concept, Raze might sound like a good movie. Its use of prison movie tropes tells us that Raze is rooted in exploitation cinema, but there’s enough drama, character, and sci-fi weirdness going on between the fights that one can intelligently pick it apart with a feminist or misogynist slant. (It lends itself to both equally.) Where Raze falters, and why it isn’t a good movie, is mostly in execution.
I cannot fault the filmmakers for having a low budget. Saying the film had a low budget is not a criticism, but I can say that the film’s sets are incredibly minimal. This works in the film’s favor during scenes that take place in cells or hallways, but during action sequences or moments with larger reveals, the minimal sets are small and boring, making the movie feel small and boring. It’s part of why the ending rings hollow, too. The sci-fi aspects of the movie portend something grander and weirder, and the film never really delivers that. Part of that reason is because of the budget, but I feel like they could have gone even more minimal at the end and achieved something with greater impact.
The fight scenes are perhaps what suffer most, because nearly all of them take place in the same tiny set. Would the fights have been more dynamic had they taken place in different arenas? Absolutely, but Raze is not that kind of movie. I feel like it should be, though. Hell, even Cube made it feel like the characters were moving from room to room just by changing the lighting.
In an effort to combat this feeling of sameness, efforts were made during the shooting and choreographing of these fights to make each one feel different, but it’s not enough. Most of them feel very samey. There’s a fight scene with Zoë Bell that takes place in a red-lit elevator, and it’s my favorite fight simply because it doesn’t look like any of the others. Also, what little novelty can be found in women bashing each others’ faces in scene after scene wore off quickly. The film becomes an exploration of violence as monotony, and I’m not sure that was the intention.
Rising above this monotony is Zoë Bell’s screen presence as Sabrina. Bell is surprisingly strong and convincing throughout, and not just with her physicality. Not all of her line deliveries work, but it’s not because she acts poorly. (She doesn’t.) It’s just that dialogue in the film isn’t terribly good. In one emotional scene, Sabrina literally says aloud: “I’m very flawed!” Of course she is, she’s the protagonist of this narrative. You’ve made a wrong turn when your characters have to speak the subtext of the film aloud. There’s a lot of expository dialogue (and monologue) in the film. It’s how we learn about literally every character of import. This might be a side effect of the budget, because telling is cheaper than showing, but this amount of verbal information is necessary for the film to function emotionally. I just wish they could have conveyed that information in a more natural way.
So while I may not have enjoyed Raze overall, there are a few things I find to be commendable about it. For one, the film opens on a strong note, and has a great opening titles montage. I like the sound design, too. There’s an oppressive mechanical rumble down in the chambers that provides a great sense of unease. The score by Frank Riggio is pretty interesting. I like that the names of the women are frequently used, making them memorable and identifiable. I love that every fight is preceded by a title card letting us know who’s going to be fighting (the “Sabrina vs. Everyone” card is my favorite moment in the film). There’s one fight between two friends that lands every emotional beat it’s going for. Rosario Dawson shows up in a cameo. So does Leigh Whannell, and his sole line of dialogue is pretty funny. The small size of the sets forces a reliance on extreme closeups, but they work really well.
Still, none of this saved Raze from feeling like an undercooked attempt at a really intriguing premise. Strong performances from Zoë Bell and Tracie Thoms (reunited from Death Proof!) can only go so far when the film’s minimalist nature eventually becomes repetitive and the ambitions far outweigh the means to fulfill them. Wanna know something weird, though? If someone wanted to make Raze 2 with a larger budget and a more interesting setting, I’d watch it in a heartbeat.
What’s great about the features on this DVD is that they make the movie seem kinda fun. They’re a nice palate cleanser after the bleak film. The making-of featurette is cool, the gag reel is funny as hell, the interviews are full of information, and the commentary is good. The extended fights are the only feature I’d recommend skipping, simply because they’re long enough in the damn movie.
The downside of having all these extras on a single DVD is that the video quality of the film takes a big hit. You know you have a problem when the clips seen in the featurettes look better than the movie itself. I’d even say that watching the film on DVD really hurts the experience, because I rented the film in HD when it first hit iTunes and I thought it looked pretty good. Here it looks downright crummy. Even in HD, the film’s color grading is all over the place, with walls bleeding into skin tones. Blood sometimes appears red, but sometimes it’s more magenta, even from shot to shot in a single sequence. It makes the fights look piecemeal, like they have poor continuity. If anything, this highlights just how important color grading is to the digital filmmaking era.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
P.S. – It’s weird reviewing a DVD when one of the quotes on the cover is from a dude who used to write for CHUD.