Prevenge *** / *****
Directed by: Alice Lowe.
Written by: Alice Lowe.
Starring: Alice Lowe (Ruth), Jo Hartley (The Midwife), Gemma Whelan (Len), Kate Dickie (Ella), Kayvan Novak (Tom), Tom Davis (DJ Dan), Dan Skinner (Mr Zabek), Mike Wozniak (Josh), Tom Meeten (Zac).
I liked so much about Prevenge – a strange British horror/dark-comedy, written, directed and starring Alice Lowe – which I’m somewhat disappointed that I didn’t end up liking the film as a whole more. It’s got a lot of great ideas, absurd comic touches, and Lowe herself is great in the lead role as Ruth – a (very) pregnant woman in her 30s who is about to become a single mother, but is currently going on a killing spree at the behest of her unborn child, who speaks to her not in a baby voice, but in the voice of someone who has never been around a baby doing a baby voice. Eventually we will, of course, find out the reasons why she is going on this killing spree – although, honestly, it isn’t all that interesting to find that out. The film is bizarre and funny and bloody as hell. But I’m not sure it every really comes together.
In the film, Lowe’s Ruth is adrift – she doesn’t seem to have a job, or much money, and is living in a cheap hotel – where every night she hears people fucking next door, as her baby – who seems like a bit of an asshole mocks her (“That’s how I was made – don’t expect that to happen again”). Occasionally, she heads out into the world – but only seems to have two purposes when she does – the first is to see her midwife (Jo Hartley) – who becomes increasingly concerned with Ruth’s behavior as her pregnancy progresses – and the second is to murder people. At first, we don’t know why she’s murdering these specific people, but we can figure out its not random. These specific people must die.
The plot of Prevenge is the weakest part, so it’s disappointing that Lowe spends as much time as she does as the film progresses explaining why Ruth is doing what she does, and who the people she kills are. Frankly, I didn’t care. What I did like about Prevenge is the utterly unique, dark take on impending motherhood that Lowe presents. Her frequent meetings with the midwife are a highlight – especially in the first half of the film, when Hartley is spouting out chipper clichés about pregnancy (“Baby knows best” etc.) – although I do think that Lowe returns to this well too often, especially once Hartley grows concerned about Ruth’s actions. Mostly, I appreciated the pitch-black take on being pregnant – and being a mother – and what that means. Lowe, who was pregnant when she shot the film, lays bare her insecurities, anxieties, etc. – and doesn’t relent, even in the final moments, by giving us the comforting view of pregnancy and motherhood we are used to seeing.
As a director, Lowe is still rough around the edges – this is after all, her first film – but at least she shows her influences are good. From definite callbacks to Zulawski’s Possession or Ferrara’s Ms. 45 – to others, Prevenge has almost as many references as Jordan Peele’s Get Out – and even if she doesn’t quite doll them out as effectively, it shows real talent. I want her to make another horror comedy – ASAP.
Prevenge is far from a perfect movie. I’m not sure it ever really comes together in any sort of cohesive fashion – either in terms of plot, or even theme. It’s a jumbled mess in many respects. But it’s such a consistently interesting jumbled mess that you cannot dismiss either. Lowe, who I thought was wonderful in the black comedy Sightseers directed by Ben Wheatley (which she co-wrote the screenplay for) – is a creative force I am glad is working, and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.