Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Zoë Bell’s tough talents are wasted on the brainless Raze

Illustration for article titled Zoë Bell’s tough talents are wasted on the brainless Raze

Raze is a brain-dead exploitation flick in which barefoot, white-tank-top-clad women beat each other to death. There’s a throwaway plot—something about a secret society—and a few perfunctory nods toward feminism in the dialogue, which register as little more than excuses for what is, primarily, an ultra-niche fetish video. Shots of blood splattering on tank tops take precedence over real action; the fights, which make up the bulk of the film, are strictly of the handheld lunge-and-cut variety, interspersed with grisly close-ups. Aside from a few artsy visual ideas (like an opening scene that’s mostly lit darkroom-red) and some effective gore and makeup, the movie doesn’t have much to offer a viewer who isn’t already into the whole cage-fight/tank-top thing.

That’s a shame, because Raze’s cast happens to include two cult performers—stuntwoman Zoë Bell and contortionist/movie-monster extraordinaire Doug Jones—with distinctive, atypical presences. As Sabrina, one of 50 women kidnapped by a couple of chipper wackos (Jones and Sherilyn Fenn) and forced to fight to the death, Bell has a tremendous physical credibility. Broad-shouldered, with muscular limbs and a sharp, spade-shaped nose that goes well with a scowl, Bell looks like a real bruiser, ready to bash someone’s face in to survive. Whether she can act is irrelevant; the role requires her to do little more than look like someone you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. She stands in sharp relief against the movie’s campy backdrop, which includes references to ancient Greece, a creepily genteel Jones, and a trigger-happy mercenary named Kurtz.

Bell’s physicality, however, only makes Raze more frustrating. With such a capable physical performer in the lead (Bell was Lucy Lawless’ stunt double on Xena: Warrior Princess and Uma Thurman’s in the Kill Bill movies), director Josh Waller could have easily made the movie’s many fights physically credible. Instead, he opts for quick cuts, dim lighting, and tight framings that make the movement of the fighters difficult to discern. In this approach, injury gets emphasized over movement, and the fights become repetitive slugfests, invariably climaxing in a neck snap or a scream. In the end, Bell’s casting doesn’t matter; only a viewer familiar with her résumé would know she isn’t using a stunt double.