The idea of treating murder as entertainment isn't at all new. Roman coliseums and Aztec ball courts witnessed plenty of blood.
But the horror-action film "Raze" makes the idea feel rather modern, even urgent. Perhaps that's because director Josh C. Waller's self-assured debut coincides with the reign of the "Hunger Games" franchise. In fact, the unrelenting, fist-into-skull violence in "Raze" boasts all the realism missing from the PG-13 series while featuring a slew of young, athletic women, any of whom could be a cousin of Katniss.
After a flirty first date, kickboxer Sabrina (stuntwoman-turned-actress Zoe Bell) wakes up in a concrete cell. She's forced to kill the first woman she sees — a stranger dressed exactly like her, in a white tank top and gray sweatpants — then kill more at unpredictable intervals. The game organizers (Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn), united in a fetish for female aggression, turn their kidnapping victims into violent femmes by threatening to kill the women's loved ones should they refuse to participate.
"Raze" is a sweaty, queasy, bruising experience — and a superbly crafted film. With a few short brushstrokes, Robert Beaucage's unsentimental script makes people out of its female characters while building to a satisfying, somewhat surprising climax. A few gestures toward a larger point about biblical misogyny ring false, but the film evinces a tragic, well-observed truth about female disposability.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hours, 27 minutes.
Playing: At Sundance Sunset Cinema, West Hollywood. Also on VOD.