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Zoë Bell Raze’s hell

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The Quentin Tarantino approved Zoë Bell continues her move from being the coolest stunt woman on the planet to being a full-on actor in Raze.

Since finding fame doubling for The Bride in Kill Bill and playing Ship’s Mast in Death Proof, Bell has had supporting roles in films like Oblivion and Whip It! Now, here, she stars and produces – keen to not only give herself a tailor-made leading role showcase, but to provide us with an all-female action movie that is just as tough and unflinching as anything the boys can do.

Sabrina (Bell) has been drugged and abducted and awakes to find herself in an underground women’s prison. A sadistic couple (Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn) force the banged up ladies to fight to the death in a pit for the entertainment of the punters watching from above ground. The only hope of escape is to be the last one standing. But, with everyone having something to fight for and wins only attained from kills, not knock outs, getting out in one still-breathing piece ain’t gonna be easy. But it is going to be fun.

With an exploitation set up like this, it would be easy for Raze to crank out the “caged babes” tropes, but thankfully there’s none of that. Raze is not about hair-pulling cat fights and titillating shower scenes, Raze is tough and grim. The fight scenes are quick and nasty. The combatants feel truly desperate and the scraps reflect that. While some of the cast have martial arts training, the tussles are form and pose free. These fighters have the knowledge, but want to grind each others faces into a brick wall to escape with little concern for style.

As a show piece for Zoë Bell’s talents, Raze is a feature-length showreel. Bell is not just fearless when it comes to her stunt work, but also in her acting. Her performance is wonderfully raw and her anger and sorrow are palpably primal in their intensity. Plus, she still rocks at kicking the shit out of people.

Doug Jones (Hell Boy 2) and Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks) promise much from their involvement, but don’t get to do as much as you would hope. Fenn has a great moment late on but Jones is underwritten and never gets to grandstand like you know he could and should. The fighting environs are a drawback too. With almost every scrap taking place in the same location it would have been wise to at least light them all differently to sidestep an environmental over-familiarity that threatens to take the shine off the sparring.

The ending is shocking and sequel unfriendly, but I hope they find a workaround so that we can get some follow ups. Raze’s bloody and bruised bare-knuckled gusto is refreshing and intoxicating and I would like some more please.

3.5-out-of-5

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