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The Raid – review

Gareth Evans' The Raid is a "brutal, bloody ballet."

REVIEWED BY: Nikki Baughan

RELEASED: May 18

The most surprising thing about The Raid is not this authentic Indonesian martial arts action extravaganza has been written and directed by young Welshman Gareth Evans, but that a film with such extreme levels of violence can display such exquisite attention to detail and masterful directorial deftness. It may sound like bandwagon hyperbole, but The Raid is a simply stunning display of filmmaking skill; Evans clearly understands and appreciates the traditions of the genre he is working in, and has fully grasped the creative possibilities afforded by a small budget and digital technology to make something remarkable.

As you would expect, the story is slight but effective. A SWAT team storm a rundown apartment block hoping to take down the local drugs baron, only to find themselves trapped as the residents fight back. That one of the SWAT team has a personal link with someone inside the building lends some depth but it is all, of course, a hook on which to hang the explosive action. Yet this is not just a series of set pieces strung together; from the moment the SWAT team enter the building, The Raid kicks into high gear and doesn’t pause for breath.

This is largely thanks to the expert choreography, not just of the excellent cast, but also the camera; it follows the protagonists through every nook and cranny of the tower and dives between flailing opponents to always be at the tumultuous heart of the action. This is bolstered by some truly outstanding sound design, which brings the building to blistering life—we hear every broken bone, every panicked breath and every explosion as war rages between its four walls. The result is a totally immersive experience, infinitely more effective than 3D,  which gives everything a hyper-real quality; so much so that the fight sequences take on a beauty all their own, playing out like a brutal, bloody ballet.

It’s clear that Evans has been inspired by Eastern and Western action classics too numerous to mention but, independent of its martial arts element, The Raid also draws heavily and effectively on horror film sensibilities. The marauding hoards stalking the SWAT team are like the very best movie monsters; when one is felled, several more rise to take his place. And the ‘last stand’ motif may be a standard horror trope but, by making the most of his menacing location, Evans ensures that his audience, along with his characters, will be straining to see what’s around every corner.

In the film, one of the druglord’s henchman is described as ‘a maniac of feet and fists’; that wonderful description goes some way to capture the essence of The Raid. But there’s certainly nothing maniacal about Evans’ filmmaking; he has clearly taken great care—not to mention a great deal of skill—to construct a powerful, visceral and exhilarating film that really is like nothing else out there.

5 stars

An exclusive article by Gareth Evans on the making of The Raid is in movieScope issue 28, on sale now.

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