Alice Lowe writes, directs and stars in Prevenge, a black comedy thriller about pregnancy that’s brutal in its honesty and bloody in its revenge.
Please note, this review was originally published in October as part of our London Film Festival coverage.
Prevenge centres on Ruth (Alice Lowe from Sightseers and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace), a pregnant woman struggling to come to terms with the death of her partner who died in a rock-climbing incident a few months ago. Overcome with grief, Ruth starts to track down and kill all of the people who were responsible for his death.
At first you think Ruth is acting alone in her quest for revenge, but soon you realise it’s actually the voice of her unborn daughter pushing Ruth to carry out each murder, often against her will. Although entirely complicit in her actions, Ruth often seems afraid of her baby, telling the midwife: “I’m scared of her… it’s like a hostile takeover.” But whenever Ruth tries to rebel against the bloodthirsty demands of her child, she’s overridden with pain and forced to continue crossing names off her kill list.
Writer/director Alice Lowe was seven months pregnant herself at the time of filming. During the Prevenge’s UK premiere, Lowe stated that she was approached by producers to direct another film while she was already six months pregnant, but rather than seeing this as an obstacle she decided to use it to her advantage and wrote a new script based on her current experience.
It also meant that Lowe had limited time in which to write and shoot Prevenge. In fact, the entire process from conception to… uh… birth was completed in only two to three months and, amazingly, the whole movie was shot in just 11 days. Quite a feat for any film, let alone one where the writer/director/lead actor is in her last trimester.
But in spite of this, Prevenge never feels rushed or unfinished. It plays out as a complex, multi-layered film with a satisfying storyline, featuring an anti-hero who takes an emotional journey through her pregnancy before culminating in a gloriously cathartic finalé. It’s an incredible achievement. I’ve sat through many movies that have been in production for years that still feel like confused, half-finished piles of pap.
Something else to probably note is that when I watched Prevenge I was also seven months pregnant, so I had an emotional connection with the film (apart from the murder bit). I was interested to see how Lowe would portray pregnancy and motherhood through the alternative lens of murder and death, rather than with rainbows, hearts and flowers as it’s normally depicted.
Throughout Prevenge there are fascinating examples of what I imagine are Lowe’s own experiences of pregnancy that I really related to. The only reoccurring character in the film is Ruth’s midwife, played by Jo Hartley, and she often acts as an unintentional voice of reason to Ruth’s strange behaviour during check-ups. The midwife delivers the kind of advice that everybody tells you when you’re pregnant, “Listen to your instincts, the baby will tell you what to do… She has all of the power now.” Of course, in the case of Prevenge, this has never been more true.
The mixture of emotions that Ruth experiences throughout the film are complex and strikingly honest, with deeply sad scenes following on the heels of comic pieces and vice versa. This was intentional as Lowe wanted the movie to mirror the emotional shifts you feel during pregnancy; of highs and lows; of happiness and fear; a sense that you are losing your own identity. For every moment of darkness a moment of deadpan comedy will lighten the mood. During one scene in which Ruth is struggling to battle with her daughter over killing her next victim, she wryly notes, “Children are so spoilt these days. ‘Mummy, I want a Playstation. Mummy, kill that man.'”
The thematic links between birth and death are also compelling, as Ruth struggles to come to terms with the death of her husband while also dealing with the start of a new life growing inside her. Climbing ropes are often portrayed as being akin to an umbilical cord with various characters telling Ruth to ‘cut the cord and get on with her life’. In another scene, an unsympathetic female interviewer compares having a baby with the relative death of her career. Both issues that Lowe and all women have to contend with during motherhood.
I also appreciated the scenes where Ruth would try to do some of the ‘nice’ things that pregnant women are encouraged to do; such as attend a yoga class or listen to relaxation tapes. In both these scenes Ruth feels completely out of place, surrounded by women who are clearly much more maternal than her and who can easily ‘relax and imagine being in a forest’ with their own babies.
In the end Ruth cannot stand the banal drivel pouring out of her tape player so she picks it up and smashes the machine to pieces using a chair leg. This is a feeling I can definitely relate to, and I admire that Lowe is honest about the fact that not all women are Earth Mothers during pregnancy. Some of us are just normal women who, when pushed, are mere moments away from thrashing the holy snot out of the nearest bollocks-spouting moron who thinks they know better.
Prevenge is not just a perfectly-judged blackly comic horror, it’s a cathartic release that screams out loud all the intangible anxieties that pregnant women can feel on any given day. Alice Lowe has possibly made the best movie about pregnancy ever. 4/5
If you’re still in the mood for horror, check out our review of the extreme Mexican mind-fuck We Are the Flesh.