There is no shortage of action movie stars; they come and go all the time, making a mark then disappearing into wherever one-hit wonders go. Only a few have that “It factor”, that something special that makes you believe they are the baddest person on the planet. Bruce Lee had it, Arnold Schwarzenegger had it, Chuck Norris still has it; and after watching the levels of ruthless aggression she unleashes in Raze, there’s no doubt that Zoe Bell has it, too.
Most folks recognize Bell from dangling off a speeding car in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (a personal favorite), and she’s taken that brief-but-awesome adrenaline rush and channeled it into a budding career playing tough-as-nails butt kickers. She stands as the alpha female in Raze, a gruesome, no-holds-barred throwback to the exploitation classics of Roger Corman, given a fresh twist Tarantino would definitely approve of.
Fight Club looks tame and rather cheery compared to the hellish scenario Raze thrusts Bell and a number of other warrior women into. Long billed as a showdown between Bell and co-star Rachel Nichols, the reality is something considerably different. Jamie (Nichols) is out on a date with a handsome young man, telling him stories about her life and goals, in particular her desire to become a kick boxer. So we know right off the bat she has skills, which are put into use when she suddenly wakes up in a cold underground lair after being kidnapped. Exiting her cell, she runs across Sabrina (Bell); both dressed in tacky grey sweatpants and white tank top. Our assumption is that the film’s two biggest stars will play friends, heroes to the end. Our hopes are quickly dashed when the two are forced into a messy, vicious fight for survival which only Sabrina survives. She doesn’t just win; she wins in gruesome fashion, making a sloppy mess where Jamie’s pretty face once had been.
There aren’t a ton of surprises to be found in Raze but that opening fight is one, and suggests that we’re going to get the hard knuckle action we had been promised. We come to learn that Sabrina is just one of dozens of stolen women, forced to fight in underground battles to the death in some sort of demented tournament for the entertainment of others. Those in charge of this gladiatorial display are a creepy couple played by an oddball Doug Jones and matriarchal Sherilyn Fenn, babbling some nonsense about Greek Maenads or something. The Maenads were the frenzied followers of Dionysus (they tore poor Orpheus to shreds if you recall the old myths), and the film seems to be saying something about the inherent savagery of all women.
Fortunately, it doesn’t spend too much time philosophizing and gets right down to what we paid to see, which is tough chicks beating the snot out of one another. In fact, that’s pretty much the entire movie, as Bell throws hands an army of equally-badass broads played by Rebecca Marshall, Bailey Ann Borders, Tracie Thoms, and a surprise cameo from another Death Proof star. Waller is surprisingly nimble with the camera considering every fight takes place in an empty stone cave, keeping the film from growing stagnant. As the ladies fight each other and against the male oppressors, we learn just enough about them to care about their fate. There’s the glimmer of hope some of them will escape, and the sucker punch when the ones we come to root for are slaughtered. And through it all, Zoe Bell stands out as Sabrina, mean as sh*t but vulnerable when called upon. It’s a remarkable performance Raze builds on as it punches and kicks its way into inevitable cult status.