'Raze' director Josh Waller talks about his all-female fight movie

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In Josh Waller‘s movie Raze, 50 women — including Death Proof co-stars Zoë Bell and Tracie Thoms — are abducted and made to fight each other to the death in a subterranean complex overseen by Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn. While the film has all the ingredients of an exploitation movie, Waller gifts the result with a serious flavor that sets it apart from your average women-in-prison slice of shlock.

“That was my goal,” says the filmmaker. “I personally am not a fan of exploitation films. I thought, Well, if I’m going to do a film which functions within this largely exploitative subgenre of women-in-prison, the only way I can actually do it and still look myself in the mirror would be to take it as seriously as if it were men that were abducted and forced to fight each other. If it were men in prison, there wouldn’t be nudity, there wouldn’t be some scene in the showers, unless it as something like Oz. Anyone who says, ‘This is sexist,’ I would counter with, ‘You’re a f—ing sexist. Because you’re the one that’s buying into all the jargon.'”

Below, Waller talks more about Raze (which opens in New York and Los Angeles this Friday), his other film of 2014 — the Cory Monteith- and David Morse-starring McCanick — and why exactly he’s calling EW from Colombia.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I’ve ever really seen a film like Raze before.
JOSH WALLER: Thanks, man. I honestly feel like I haven’t either. It’s my film, and there are some flaws and there are things that I would do differently. But, for the the most part, I’m very happy with the way it turned out.

What was it like getting up pretty much every day and filming fight scenes?
For me it was challenging and for the actresses it was challenging. We did the movie for a micro budget and trying to pull off 19 action sequences in the course of 30 days for very little money is not only ambitious, some might call it stupid. And by “some,” I would say that I call it stupid. I will never do that again and I can guarantee that Zoë probably wouldn’t do it again either. It was tough on all of us. But it was just one of those things were we knew there were certain things we needed to get done and a certain amount of time to do it and that’s just the way that it is.

I loved the very peculiar pairing of Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn. It’s almost as if they’ve stepped in from a John Waters movie.
[Laughs] I love that you said that. Yeah, it fits but it also kind of doesn’t fit and that’s what I like about them. You know, there’s a lot of moments within the film that I find humorous. I think a lot of people might look at a film like this and choose to view it seriously as opposed to just viewing it with an open mind. Just because a film lives within a certain genre that doesn’t mean it can’t step outside of that genre for moments of lightness. I just thought that they could bring something interesting and something light. Look, I’m the filmmaker and I’m telling you the subject matter is a bit heavy-handed. And that’s okay. That’s totally okay. But if you’re going to deliver something that’s that heavy-handed you’ve got to do it with a certain amount of levity. [Laughs]

Rosario Dawson is also in the film for…Well not for long, it’s fair to say.
Yeah, one fight.

How did that come about?
It was obviously a little bit of a Death Proof reunion for Zoë and Tracie to work together again. Tracie and I on the sly thought, “Well, what if we could get Rosario to come and be one of the fighters in the movie without Zoë knowing?” We were very clear: We can’t put this on the schedule, we can’t put this on the cast list, nobody can know. Meanwhile, we called Ro and said, “Hey, do you want to come and fight in this movie for a half day?” So Rosario started training and learning the fight choreography.

Zoë was exhausted because she was fighting and working all the time and I went up to her and was like, “So, there’s this girl that’s in this one fight and we couldn’t lock her down so we lost her.” This was right before the fight which we were supposed to shoot. I said, “But don’t worry, I found someone else. She doesn’t have a lot of fight experience, I think she’s had some dance experience.” And you can just see Zoë’s face dropping. She was getting more and more infuriated. So Zoë’s in the arena and we bring Rosario over and Zoe says “This girl looks a lot like Rosario.” Then she goes, “Wait a second that is Rosario.” What I love about people like Ro is that she was so game to do it. It’s just a tiny little part and she brought some weight to it. She gave an incredible performance for the 5 minutes tops that she’s on the screen. It was pretty awesome.

Tell us about McCanick. I’ve only seen the trailer, but it looks like a very different cup of tea.
T
hat’s putting it lightly. McCanick is a homage to the films of the late ’60s, early ’70s — films like The Conversation and Dog Day Afternoon. Those are the type of gritty dramas that I would typically gravitate towards. McCanick was a film that I had been working on for many, many years, trying to get it made. Four years of those were just David Morse and I. And we finally pulled it together. It’s a straight-up cop drama but much in the same way that Raze gives you a little something different within a world that you think that you know, McCanick does a little bit of the same thing. It’s functioning within a subgenre — a cop drama — and we try to give you something that you haven’t really seen before, either in the story or the way it was shot. I’m very happy with it.

Finally, you’re calling from Colombia. What are you doing there?
Well, in 2010 Daniel Noah, who wrote McKanick, he and I partnered with Elijah Wood. The three of us are best friends and we decided that we wanted to start our own company with SpectreVision and we’d be dedicated to producing, dare I say, “elevated” genre films for our peers. My role within our company is that I’m the head of physical production. So, right now we are down here in preps on a film called Child. I can’t tell you who’s in it because we haven’t done the formal press release yet. But we start shooting in February and it’s based off a Sundance short from a couple of years ago called Henley. We’re shooting in Colombia, but it takes place in in the United States. We’ve come down outside of Medizin, Colombia. We are going to build an entire motel from the ground up, starting tomorrow morning and try to make some kick a– little film.

You can check out the trailer for Raze below.

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