Raze tells the story of a young woman who awakens dazed in a concrete bunker, and quickly discovers she is not alone. Before she can figure out what has happened, she is in a battle to the death. So begins the first round of a sadistic tournament. Fifty kidnapped women are forced to kill one another over the course of seven days. If they fail to fight or loose the match, a loved one is murdered. Each blood-soaked round appears on a live feed for those who can afford it. Joseph (Doug Jones) and Elizabeth (Sherilyn Fenn) are the disturbing husband and wife duo that have devoted their lives to organizing these events. They believe that the last woman standing will be transformed, empowered, and released into the world a better person. The two of them underestimate the tenacity of a few of their hand picked gladiators. Sabrina (Zoe Bell) forms a close bond with several other combatants and together, they dream of an escape and a rampage of violence on their captors. Josh C. Waller’s impressive debut is filled with face-smashing action while showing how far people are willing to go to survive and protect their family.
Prior to seeing the film I thought we were going to be inundated with a rip-off of Fight Club, but instead you find yourself chanting: “Two women enter, one woman leave.” Josh C. Waller offers us an original story and a great genre effort with his first film, though early reviews tend to detest the film and criticize it for being scathingly misogynistic. I can understand how they arrived at this conclusion, but I don’t completely agree.
Waller shows his influence in the women-in-prison subgenre that populated the 70’s yet uses restraint when it comes to the exploitative nature of those films. While the violence is realistic and numerous sequences showcase face smashing, there is no nudity or any sign of lesbian romance. In films like Caged Heat you have all the tropes present: an innocent girl falsely imprisoned, group strip searches, shower scenes, lesbian sex, hard labor and sadistic torture from the guards. By steering clear of gratuitous nudity, Raze is able to focus on its more Marxist themes.
The exploitation that occurs in Waller’s film is the same as what we see in our daily lives: the haves creating indentured servants out of the have-nots. Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn perfectly represent a bourgeois couple that lead an elite group of men and women that take pleasure in the brutality of their working class combatants. Using the thin veil of a myth to justify the groups actions only heightens the level of dark satire that is present in the film.
The misogyny that Raze is criticized for is a continuation of the dark satire that resides in the film’s social commentary. The bourgeois who pay for the male gaze exemplify our oppressive male dominated culture. Even the wealthy women help to promote this discrimination. It is difficult to believe, but women can be misogynistic as well. A shining example can be found every time you open a magazine and see models perpetuating body types that “men want to see.” The elite also base their contest on hypocrisy. The myth they worship is a story of female empowerment. They believe the battles will allow the best woman to rise from the ashes more powerful than before. The problem we face when watching films like Raze is that our own stance on objectification comes into question. Are we (the audience) culpable for taking pleasure in a narrative like this?
Slasher films of the 70’s and 80’s were all discredited by major critics for their violence toward women. Horror has always been under fire for its surface hatred of the feminine. In the slasher films we would follow the killer then shift our perspective to that of the final girl who we would have to embody to destroy the threat. While it wasn’t a perfect system, males would still have to identify with this powerful female archetype and women in the audience would have an icon of strength to look up to. In Raze, you never shift your focus, from the first moment you are a woman trying to make sense of what is going on and how to escape it.
One final and humorous note about Raze: it passes the Bechdel Test with no question. It is funny that a film of this caliber succeeds where most romantic comedies and dramas fail.
The Chicago International Film Festival will also premier Argento’s Dracula 3D. Dario Argento will be there, and before the film they will be hosting a tribute to him.
What do you think about the misogyny in horror films?