Director: Alice Lowe
Writer: Alice Lowe
Starring: Alice Lowe, Jo Hartley, Gemma Whelan, Kate Dickie, Kayvan Novak, Tom Davis, Mike Wozniak, Tom Meeten, Dan Renton Skinner, Marc Bessant, Leila Hoffman, Della Moon Synnott
Review (and Q & A)
Alice Lowe is currently doing the rounds with her film Prevenge, a sharp and very dark horror-satire about a pregnant woman - Ruth – who embarks on a killing spree goaded on by her unborn baby daughter, who issues her orders in a malevolent, high-pitched, Gollum-like voice which only Ruth can hear.
Ruth is prompted to unleash bloody hormonal havoc on a series of characters that are connected to the death of her partner (and the father of her child) in a climbing accident.
Ms Lowe wrote, directed and starred in Prevenge, the film is pretty much entirely her baby, as much as was the one she was seven and a half months pregnant with when she made her movie (no, it’s not a prosthetic, and that gives a whole new frisson to some of Alice Lowe’s scenes in the movie!)
Lowe has an unusual take on the state of pregnancy in Prevenge - she explores, in script and performance, something potentially dark and dangerous in the relationship that a pregnant woman might have with her gestating body.
In the Q&A after the screening Ms. Lowe was asked whether the idea for the movie stemmed from a determination to get away from cinema’s traditional idyllic view of pregnancy:
“It was more born of frustration and bafflement, and feeling like an outsider to the shiny tourist version of pregnancy. What I really wanted to channel was that it’s an incredibly individual experience, whether that means you’re a happy earth mother or a hellbent tool of vengeance. I feel like the earth mother cliché has been fully explored, and we could all benefit from seeing something else.
This isn’t me saying all pregnant women secretly want to slay – although some might. It’s me saying pregnant women are people with their own goals, hopes, dreams and motivations, and that doesn’t have to be swallowed up by pregnancy.
That was one of my fears: that my identity would disappear, and I’d be like a Stepford Wife the day after the baby was born. The whole film is really a kind of meditation on loss of identity. I turned the fear of violence against my own body outside of myself, as it were.”
Ruth’s murderous rampage is motivated by crushing grief and mourning at the loss of her partner and her baby’s father, in what she perceives as an act of selfishness by those who become her victims. Ms. Lowe went on to explain that particular aspect of the story:
“There’s plenty of revenge movies where men have lost their loved ones – Mad Max, Gladiator, Taken, John Wick – and it means that those protagonists can let rip on bloodshed as the audience feels it is righteous.
I actually read about women who had lost their partners while pregnant, and what was striking was the bitter cocktail of emotions. Some said they resented the baby for being alive, and many said they would swap the baby for the partner to be living instead. Some said that they felt coerced by healthcare professionals and relatives to “put aside their grief for the sake of the baby”, as if their grief was selfish.
I deliberately wanted Ruth to be morally troubling, so I held back on showing the audience what she’s taking revenge for. This means you have to do a bit more hard work to understand and empathise with Ruth. I wanted her to be someone who is the opposite of the pregnancy archetype; she’s looking to the past, not the future, in love with death, not thinking about new life.
I could have chosen to give Ruth a ‘funny’ motivation for revenge, but I was done with seeing pregnant women as ‘light’ and their concerns and demands as somehow irrational. It was a bit of a risky gamble, but I wanted to see how far you’d go with this character.”
Prevenge is best enjoyed for the journey rather than the destination, (the denouement is somewhat left open). The grimness of Ruth’s journey is relieved by a series of meetings between Ruth and her sunny but clueless midwife, played by Jo Hartley, who speaks to Ruth in a soothing, slightly patronising voice. Ruth feebly protests that she’s the subject of a hostile takeover from within, while her midwife asserts that “it’s all quite normal” and that “baby knows best” - a message which only serves to dispel any doubts that Ruth might have concerning the vindictive requests of her vengeful foetus.
The film uses its low-budget to advantage, grounding Ruth’s murderous quest in a dreary world of grimy business parks, dingy shops and graffitied underpasses, shot at night in sickly electric light or in grey daytime. The quirky electronic score by Brighton-based duo Toydrum, also adds to the atmosphere of dislocation and alienation.
Prevenge does not easily fit into one genre and it does for mothers-to-be what Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers did for tourism, taking the idealised view and soaking it in blood and the blackest of wit, but the film might appeal to horror-arthouse audiences who appreciate a razor-sharp example of what might be termed ‘Slasher Comedy’.
Ren Zelen | Twitter: @RenZelen