Prison. Women. Fighting. Movie. Those four words just painted a pretty specific kind of picture in your mind. You pervert. While it’s true that the especially exploitative period of exploitation films had its large share of women in prison movies that narrative doesn’t have to be explicitly sexual and objective. Case in point is the film Raze, the latest from director Josh C. Waller and star Zoe Bell. Raze has every element listed above but resides in a territory that is close to the opposite end of the spectrum of exploitation. Raze has a message, several of them really, and is more interested in making the audience feel every moment of the delivery rather than pandering to any women in prison norms.
Firstly, Raze has characters, legitimately realized three-dimensional characters. Every major player has their own convictions, motivations, and demons. Each “woman fight” is deliberate and is presented with the weight of the background of each character. This in itself sets it apart from its general plot synopsis. Every woman, every man, every moment featured in this film has a further purpose beyond advancing its own storyline. When a person describes filmmaking as a “craft” this is what they mean. There are layers and layers of story laid upon layers and layers of visual metaphors, laid upon a simple story that engages the story. When a viewer sees a film so deliberately concerned with its own construction one can’t help but marvel a bit.
Even that very basic set-up of women in prison is no mistake. The fact that Raze diverts all women in prison expectations is not simply a coincidental exception, it is an intentional attempt to reference those films while diverting the message. This film could have easily been what you pictured at the beginning of the review. Honestly, I suspect some viewers will still interpret as that sort of movie. But really, a few small modifications allows Raze to be more empowerment and less exploitation.
Take, for instance, a scene later in the film that features a woman beating a man with a weapon that just happens to feature large metal balls as the deadly part of the attack. This visual metaphor is Raze in a nutshell, pun kinda intended. The women in this film are people, not objects. They have intellect, they have power, and they have emotions. The men in this film are lesser. They are not three-dimensional characters, instead caricatures of certain archetypes. Oppressors of different types if you will.
I could go further in the interpretation of theme in Raze, but in truth, while the theme is what makes Raze a great movie, the story is what makes it a damn entertaining movie. All interpretation aside, this is a tense action movie that rushes by with taut pacing and compelling fight choreography. With the addition of Zoe Bell the action is both brutal and exciting. Think Raid: The Redemption exciting. This makes sense since Zoe Bell has spent a large portion of her career working as a stuntwoman. This influence is obvious as what results is a pulse-pounding film that any action fan will enjoy.
So, to return to the idea of filmmaking as craft, Raze manages to carefully assemble all these technical elements into a visually compelling and thrilling film. From sound, to cinematography, to fight choreography, etc., it is obvious so much care was taken in the construction of this film you really can’t help but be impressed. Add to that the levels of theme and cerebral storytelling and you get a fun action movie that happens to slip into being a great film.