Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Holy hotpants --- it's women killing women!!! Line up, perverts, for Josh Waller's RAZE

Hey -- it's The Most Dangerous Game all over again! Only this time, in RAZE, it's being played by the gals -- with the guys actually in control of the ladies, of course. Imagine this: An organization of the very wealthy kidnaps a bunch of women, imprisons them and forces them to fight each other to the death until only one survives. Why would the women agree to this? Because, if they don't, those nasty bad-guys will not only kill them but their daughters/mothers/ husbands/or some other much-loved-target. These "death matches" are of course viewed by an audience of the very wealthy (you can bet they're all Republicans) for their delectation and entertainment. Oh, yes -- and we viewers might just possibly be entertained by all this, too, right?
God, no -- perish the thought!

I feel I must quote here from the press kit for Josh Waller's new film -- the filmmaker is pictured at left -- in which Mr. Waller tells us that, although his movie "could have easily gone the way of exploitation," (I'll give you a moment to pick yourself up off the floor and stop laughing) "we decided to take a much more elevated approach to it." Right. Sometimes the camera looks at all the violence from up above.

Further thoughts: "...some of my influences aren't necessarily references to horror or action films, but more the films of Stanley Kubrick, Kinji Fukasaku, and more recently, Quentin Tarantino."

What, no Ozu? By the way, Mr. Waller: Both Kukasaku (who did Battle Royale) and Tarantino could easily be described as horror or action filmmakers, too, with nary a nose, I suspect, being put out of joint.

Well, then: We now know that watching Raze -- in which match after match after match has one women brutally killing another -- is not exploitative. I am so relieved. What is it, then? A kind of confined-space movie, a variation on the women-in-prison film, a martial arts extravaganza, a thriller of sorts, and -- if you were being particularly obtuse, you might even call it feminist.

My daughter, who attended the press screening with me and knows a thing or two about martial arts, says that the movie definitely gets its moves right. So this, along with some fancy and fast editing, makes the fight scenes look real (though in the still, shown at right, the muscles look a little limp to be actually engaged in struggle). A nod is given early on to how these women ended up where they are, and we get a cursory look at their captors, the man and woman (Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn, below) who head this creepy and uber-entitled group, as well as at the male guards who keep our ladies in line.

As to the characterization of these poor women themselves, we're mostly given the standard cliff notes versions: They come in varieties of hard, sweet, nasty, nice and naive -- and all, eventually, dead. Except maybe that final contestant. But since we're dealing here with people in charge who haven't the foggiest notion of morality, justice, right, wrong, good, bad, or any fashion sense (they must be Republicans), we pretty much realize that this is not going to end well.

The cast is led by New Zealand gymnast/martial artist/stuntwoman Zoë Bell, shown above and below, who has yet to add actress to her credentials. She's not bad (and she certainly executes her moves with consummate skill) but she mostly keep a single expression going throughout the film.

Also in the cast are Rachel Nichols (shown below), Tracie Thoms and Rebecca Marshall (shown at bottom), along with Bruce Thomas as the guard you love to hate the most. Everyone does the expected, and if there are no surprises, neither are there any screw-ups. We thought we noticed Rosario Dawson in the movie, too (always a good reason to see any film), but her part is so small that if you blink twice in quick succession, you'll miss it.

Raze is such an ugly movie in just about every way that recommending it proves difficult. It's not badly
done so much as revoltingly imagined. This is the Roman Colosseum in microcosm, with the spectacle reduced to simple killing: no lions, gladiators or weapons on view. And since it's all women killing women for the delectation of the "one percent," you can add an extra layer of sleaze and perversion.

The movie's also mostly humor-free, but there is one whoppingly (and intentionally) hilarious

joke toward the finale. Each fight is introduced with a label:  "Jamie vs Teresa" and so forth, until the final one, which should make you laugh out loud.

Raze, from IFC Midnight and lasting 87 relatively lengthy minutes, opens in theaters this Friday, January 10, and will simultaneously be available via VOD. In NYC, look for it at the IFC Center; in L.A. it will play the Sundance Sunset Cinemas. To see all currently scheduled playdates, click here.

No comments: