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Some may consider this to be problematic, even anti-feminist, but the truth is there’s something distinctively exciting about a so-called girl fight. Consider Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films and how completely different the story would have been had the protagonist been male; part of the excitement comes from what’s at stake and it often involves children. For where there are women fighting, there are often mothers (or potential mothers) fighting for their children; this invites a whole new level of emotion and violence and complicates what might be a slightly more straightforward story of survival or revenge. Raze is director Josh C. Waller’s debut feature film, and he capitalizes on all of the excitement inspired by bloody fights to the death set in a world where hell hath no fury like a woman kidnapped and forced to fight for her survival.

Zoë Bell plays Sabrina, the femme fatale in Raze, and much of the film depends on the performance of this stuntwoman turned actor. Bell was Thurman’s stunt double in Kill Bill 1 and Kill Bill 2, and started out as Lucy Lawless’s stunt double on Xena: Warrior Princess. Bell’s work on the sets of these productions has clearly paid off, as she delivers a strong performance, fighting like a bare-knuckled gladiator against women in a brick pit. The captured women in the film do not know their captors or why they have been chosen, but the lives of their loved ones are at stake, so each day they fight to the death. Although Bell is the standout actor in Raze, Tracie Thoms and Rebecca Marshall also deliver memorable performances in the fight scenes and in the confines of their cells where each prisoner plots a way out, or the next kill.

In many ways, Raze plays like a Tarantino flick—horribly bloody and graphic, but without much of the humor that Tarantino fans love. It’s a dark tale, as much in the genre of horror as it is action, although Waller also draws on a Hunger Games-inspired plot to give the storyline some depth.

This is, perhaps, the biggest problem with Raze. It is too reminiscent of other popular films—The Hunger Games, The Abduction of Eden and any Tarantino flick all rolled up in one. However, the allusions to Suzanne Collins’s work are almost distracting. The women who defeat their opponents are called “the victors” and the people running the show (and watching it) are much like those of the Capitol—wealthy and sophisticated, sipping champagne as they watch innocent people (referred to as those who have been “reaped” ... ahem) tear each other apart. Raze would have been a stronger film had Waller focused more on the Greek mythology implied in the narrative with a few references to maenads.

Still, as violent as it is, Raze is refreshing. Waller creates an unapologetic, underground world where mothers are transformed into killers. In fact, Raze almost seems to suggest that women and mothers are already on a darker side (again, there is the nod to Greek literature here), just a few circumstances away from ripping someone to pieces. And although there is triumph at the end of this sordid tale, Waller is careful not to grant any of his characters or his audience a happy ending. This is another unique move on his part, and viewers have more to look forward to in his work.

Director: Josh C. Waller
Writer: Robert Beaucage, Kenny Gage, Josh C. Waller
Starring: Zoë Bell, Rachel Nichols, Tracie Thoms
Release Date: Jan. 10, 2014