The first I ever heard of Prevenge was when attending a talk with Alice Lowe at the York Aesthetica Film Festival last November. While discussing her body of work, she went on to talk about her latest project that was going around the festival circuit. If the premise of a pregnant woman who goes on a killing spree at the command of her unborn fetus wasn’t head scratching enough, then came the title; the blend of Pregnancy and Revenge made the whole concept sound so frankly banal and naff.
That was until we were treated to an exclusive clip of the protagonist Ruth lying on her bed with her bump all for show and having a two way conversation with the devil inside her. From that moment, I had to see this film. It was the child like tone of the unborn babies voice that had me in hysterics, especially when referring to the latest victim as a ‘hipster sop.’
With the slasher genre so full of clichés, what makes Prevenge so fresh is the twist in viewpoint by seeing the action from the killer’s perspective. Ruth is a morbid pregnant woman who juxtaposes society’s portrayal of pregnancy being a gleeful experience with women looking so blissful and assured. Not here. Indeed this is a film that’s not for the faint hearted. Aside from the gore, pregnancy is portrayed with a brutal honesty that many women could easily relate to. With vomit and milk squirting out from various places, it’s best not expect this as a promotion for Mothercare.
This moroseness is brought on by the death of her partner and it’s a combination of grief, alienation and sadness that makes us sympathise with her while she leaves behind a bloody trail of deaths. Much has been discussed of Lowe being seven months pregnant while shooting the film and it’s this authenticity that shines through in her performance. That feeling of vulnerability and fear gives Ruth some form of sympathy.
But it’s the devil child herself who’s equally the star; her savage one liners and innocent yet blunt delivery is so comical and bounces off Lowe so wonderfully well. Along with the humour, it’s also the repetition of her describing everyone as ‘monsters’ that highlights a cynicism, almost as a way of justifying Ruth’s actions to go against everyone.
Thankfully the comedy averts any chance for the film to turn ponderous or preachy and it’s evident that Lowe knew that its inclusion was necessary to at least make light of a premise that really couldn’t be taken seriously. And anyone who’s seen her 2012 film Sightseers should know what to expect.
The supporting cast bring so much to the table that works opposite Lowe’s signature deadpan delivery. In particular the scenes with Tom Davis in the nightclub and his flat had me close to choking. Jo Hartley’s midwife brilliant epitomises the sickeningly jolly personality disorder that everyone seemingly turns into around pregnant women. Seeing her pulling teeth to help Ruth show any form of emotion is a joy to watch, especially when reassuring her that ‘Baby will tell you what to do.’ Oh the irony. And to avoid the film becoming somewhat man hating, Lowe cleverly uses a female character in the form of Ella to a show an unsympathetic boss who treats pregnant women as some form of corporal parasite. Her somewhat placid bitchiness is played wonderfully by Kate Dickie.
As her directorial debut, Lowe has much to be commended. Having come up with the idea, writing and filming in such a short space of time while in her condition (not to sound sexist, just wanted to throw that daft and irritating quote in), she really has proven herself as a director to watch.
Various shots demonstrates her clear attention to detail and there are some memorable moments. In particular, after Ruth takes a Sweeney Toddesque swipe at the pet shop owner, the shot of a lizard hiding behind a leaf is just too brilliant to disregard. Later on when Ruth looks in the mirror, the two horns in the reflection sticking perfectly out of her head couldn’t have been accidental. And the inclusion of the Greek Furies scene from the 1934 noir classic Crimes Without Passion captures Ruth’s warped mind-set. Lowe herself imitates these bizarre actions with an equal level of creepiness. The gory death scenes themselves are nothing unique, but with such a clever story and great one liners, it doesn’t really matter.
Electronic band Toydrum provide a majestic and funky theme that, at the backdrop of the mesmerising colours of Cardiff nightlife, gives the vibe of an experimental film that avoids mainstream trappings. Its recognisable beat reminded me of the brilliant Disasterpiece score for the 2014 film It Follows.
Prevenge is one of the more experimental horror flicks of recent years. Although it may never become a classic in the canon of Halloween, it’s already a accumulated a global cult following. I certainly expect (and hope) to see many women parading down city streets during Halloween, dressed up as killer Ruth with all the face paint skull mask, long red dress, baby bump and butcher knife.
Nearly nine months after attending that talk with Lowe, Prevenge arrived on delivery with wit, gore and substance. Congratulations Alice Lowe, it’s a solid five!