I have always had trouble working in a group with other women.
I wish that wasn’t true because it really is such a cliché, this idea that a group of women can’t get along for more than a few days or that we’re all always in some sort of passive aggressive competition with each other. And I still don’t think that’s true for all women but it’s certainly been true for me. For whatever reason, I seem to bring out the cattiness in certain people and, being the Irish lass that I am, it’s next to impossible for me to truly let anything go. I remember every smirk, every eye roll, and every piece of innuendo that I’ve ever suspected was whispered behind my back. It probably doesn’t help that I tend to be ultra-competitive about — well, about everything. That’s why I’m sometimes jealous of the way that men can apparently compete each other without taking any of it personally or even that seriously. Men can compete and remain friends with no hard feelings and I have to admit that I’ve never quite understood how they manage to do that. Again, I wish that wasn’t true because it really does play into the stereotypes and clichés that men have used to keep us “in our place” for centuries.
I found myself thinking a lot about my competitive nature as I watched Raze, the debut film of director Josh C. Waller.
In Raze, a centuries-old secret society has kidnapped 50 women and imprisoned them in an underground prison. As the leaders of the organization — the cadaverous Joseph (Doug Jones) and the deceptively maternal Elizabeth (Sherilyn Fenn) — explain, the women will spend the next two weeks fighting each other. Each fight will be to the death until only one is left alive. If the women refuse to fight, their loves ones will be murdered. If one of the women loses her fight, her loves ones will be murdered. The only way for the women to save their loves ones is to be the lone survivor.
Since the movie opens with the tournament in progress, we only get to meet a handful of the women who are literally fighting for their lives. Jamie (Rachel Nichols) was kidnapped from a bar after she made the mistake of telling a handsome stranger that she wanted to be a kickboxer. Teresa (Tracie Thomas) is fighting to save her husband’s life. Cody (Bailey Anne Borders) spends all of her time in her cell crying but still turns out to be a surprisingly efficient killer. Pheobe (Rachel Marshall) is a sociopath who, alone of all the women, is actually enjoying the tournament. And then there’s Sabrina (Zoe Bell), a former soldier and POW who is fighting to protect the daughter that she’s never met.
Probably the first thing that I should tell you about Raze is that it’s a violent film. It’s not just that there’s a lot of fights in the film. It’s the fact that those fights are so well-choreographed and the film’s cast so throws themselves into both their characters and the action on-screen that the violence feels real in a way that most film violence does not. I don’t think I’ve ever winced as much and as often as I did while watching the fights in Raze because I found myself feeling each blow and each kick. There are a lot of fights in Raze but they never feel repetitive because the viewers has an emotional stake in each and every one of them.
Thematically, Raze makes an attempt to turn the tournament into a metaphor for the battles that women have to fight every single day. Elizabeth and Joseph both assure the women that the tournament’s champion will come out of the ordeal as a stronger and more independent woman. It’s an idea that the film doesn’t explore as thoroughly as I would have liked but it’s still an interesting concept that made Raze a bit more thought-provoking than the usual genre piece.
Personally, I like films where women get to kick ass. That’s why I’ve been always been willing to watch the Underworld and Resident Evil films, despite the fact that most of them kinda sorta suck. That said, I prefer films where women get to beat up men and zombies to films where women beat each other to death. On the surface, Raze has a lot in common the “women in prison” films that Roger Corman produced back in the 70s. The main difference is that, in the Corman films, characters like Sabrina and Cody would never have consented to killing another woman. Instead, they would have teamed up with Pam Grier and taken down the Man.
Raze is a lot better than you might expect but it still definitely could have used Pam Grier.